The Pure Gold Baby
By Margaret Drabble
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013
From the library
Jessica Spreight is an anthropology student in 1960s London. She is a rising star among her peers, excelling at her work and garnering the praise of her professors. One professor in particular is very taken with her and she ends up having his child. Anna is not a usual baby - she is lovely and always cheerful, but it is clear she will never become a functioning adult. The Pure Gold Baby is an unflinching look at a mother trying to raise her daughter and the community that came together to support them.
I had a really hard time reading this book. The story could be interesting - a single mother trying to raise her child with special needs, but Drabble places the readers at a distinct distance from the characters. The story is narrated not by Jessica or Anna, but by a friend. She relates their story, as well as many of her own, in a flat manner. It almost feels as if we are reading an anthropological study instead of a novel. We learn about the characters, but always from a safe distance.
Nellie states that Jess doesn't know that she is writing down her story. She doesn't think that she will like it or that she will ever ability tell her what she has done. She never states exactly why she felt the impulse to write the details of their lives.That bothered me a lot and as I kept turning the pages, I was waiting to find the impetus for this book. We never find out and I couldn't figure out why the narrator considered it vital or why I should find it important either.
The book does look at the interesting ways in which society changes over a lifetime. We see the evolution in care for the disabled and the ways that being a wife and mother change and continue to stay the same. I was usually interested, but I was never invested in the characters or what was happening to them. Margaret Drabble is a writer who is respected and revered by many readers and other writers, but I was underwhelmed by The Pure Gold Baby.