The Pure Gold Baby

by Margaret Drabble

The story is of Jess, a young woman who has studied anthropology and wants to research people in Africa. But she becomes a single mother so has to put her career on hold. The child is beautiful and happy but as she gets older, it is evident that she isn’t developing at the same rate as other children. Jess comes to realize that, while her daughter never receives a diagnosis, her needs are such that she will never be independent, and naturally this is a concern. The story is told by an enigmatic narrator called Eleanor and, through her account, we learn of the community of mothers who support Jess and changing attitudes over the years towards disability and also mental health.

It is a stunning book. It has a very gentle pace and covers some difficult issues with sensitivity. I found it a powerful tale of hope, of love and generosity, and of how we all need to adapt to lives when things turn out differently from how we expected. There are some quirky elements - occasional repetition of phrases, the recurrent use of the word 'proleptic' and the character of the narrator which is vivid and intriguing despite the author claiming she is only a literary device. It’s a very thoughtful novel and one I believe I may read again.

Review date: November 2013
The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble