Anthropology student Jessica Speight is at the start of a budding anthropology career when she has an affair with her professor that leaves her a single mother. Though she has an irresistible charm and sweet demeanor, it soon becomes clear that Jessica's young daughter, Anna, is developmentally behind her peers. The Pure Gold Baby spans several decades, from the 1960's to the present, and examines motherhood, friendship, love and family life through Margaret Drabble's signature prose.
The Pure Gold Baby is told in first person from the perspective of a woman in Jessica’s circle of friends, often speaking as the voice of the group. This style keeps Jessica and Anna at arm’s length, making it difficult to fully know their characters despite the time spent following their lives. While it is frustrating to read so much about a family and still end up feeling like an outsider, the novel shifted when I began to see the narrator as a mirror for Jessica's role as an anthropologist. Drabble reminds us that, when heard only in whispered gossip, a family’s story can be twisted in the same way a culture can be misunderstood by an anthropologist's field notes.
“There was no suggestion, now, that Anna would be a normal child. She would be what she would be - a millstone, an everlasting burden, a pure gold baby, a precious cargo to carry all the slow way through life to its distant and yet unimaginable bourne on the shores of the shining lake.”
Drabble's prose is as stunning as it's been throughout her career, despite the odd narration. Though some may find it difficult to forge a connection with the novel's characters, The Pure Gold Baby is easy to appreciate and a fitting addition to Margaret Drabble's long list of accomplishments.
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