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The Gates of Ivory
by Margaret Drabble

From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Sonja Larsen The Gates of Ivory examines people's need to make sense of history, both personal and public, by creating a world in which small comforts and big questions struggle to achieve their balance between "Good Time" and "Bad Time." Good Time is the security of friends, lovers, and the wisdom of small epiphanies and reduced expectation. Bad Time is the world of atrocity and terror, both the world we witness on the nightly news and the land we enter when we are touched by random death or sickness. For Margaret Drabble's middle-aged characters, put in a position of advantage by education and circumstance, it is also the realization that the idealism they grapple with is itself a product of privilege. Exiles, refugees, and tourists cross the England and the Far East, struggling to understand their connection. When psychiatrist Liz Headeland receives a package from Cambodia containing the possessions of her friend Stephen Cox, she must question not only his fate, but the nature of his quest. Has Cox travelled into "bad time" as he claimed, to write a play about the death of communism, the death of a nation? Or is he evading his life in England? Combining mystery and philosophy, the domestic and the unknown, Margaret Drabble produces a book which is intimate in tone and expansive in scope.

From: Jane Niemeier ( Date: Thursday, March 11, 1999 08:50 PM I decided to start this thread today, because I am going to be very busy during the next few days and may not have time to post. p. 4 - "While opening her post one dark morning, Liz Headleand was surprised to come across a package containing part of a human finger bone. It contained other objects, but the bone was the first to attract her attention." Thus begins the tale of Stephen Cox and his group of women friends. The story slowly unravels switching back and forth from present time in England (in the late 1980's) to a few years earlier when Stephen made a trip to Thailand, Viet Nam, and Cambodia. During most of the novel we don't know if Stephen is alive or dead. I love the humor that M. Drabble uses in this novel. It is very subtle. She even makes fun of her own novel when she talks about Liz Headleand's confusion with Joseph Conrad's novel, VICTORY. p. 238 - "And she finds the chronology confusing. What is the point of all this skipping about from one time scale to another? Is it incompetence or ingenuity?" Imagine my amazement on Sunday when I opened the paper to learn that the Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok was recently arrested. It mentioned in the article that he had only one leg as does Drabble on p. 130. "Ta Mok is in charge of the armed resistance. Ta Mok has lost a leg." I am on p. 275, and although it is my second reading, I don't remember the ending, so I am enjoying it very much. After I read this novel the first time, I wrote a fan letter to M. Drabble and told her how much I liked her strong women characters, and how they made me laugh. She sent me a post card back to thank me for the letter. Jane
From: Theresa Simpson ( Date: Thursday, March 11, 1999 10:32 PM Jane - I read this book several years ago, while I was working in France. I bought it at a bookstore in Paris which is known for having many English language books (I can't remember the name of this store - perhaps you are familiar with it?). It was pretty expensive, even though in paperback, because it was a foreign language book. I bought all the rest of my English language reading material used at Shakespeare & Co. at much more reasonable prices. I liked Gates of Ivory, but not enough to merit a re-read at this time (my TBR is toppling already). Some of the characters in this book appear in other of Drabble's novels. I've also read some of her early novels - they have a much bleaker outlook than the later, IMO, although it has been years since I read them (in college, and they were already rather dated at that time). Drabble reminds me a bit of Margaret Atwood, but she doesn't annoy me as Atwood does. The only Atwood I really, really liked was Handmaid's Tale. I've liked all of Drabble's work. Theresa
From: R Bavetta ( Date: Thursday, March 11, 1999 10:47 PM I finished this book last week and I encourage any of you who haven't started it yet, to dive right in. It's a longish novel, but it moves quickly, and somehow never manages to be confusing. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed such a big, fat, complicated novel so much. There are so many characters, and so many scene switches, that in the hands of a lesser writer we might be hopelessly lost. Drabble not only pulls it off, but I think she uses it to her advantage--there's a lot of philosophizing here--but it's larded into the book in dribs and drabs so that we never feel preached to. I couldn't put it down. Does anybody know--was this excerpted in the NYer or was there a PBS production made from it? Bits and pieces of it are so familiar to me--yet I know I hadn't read the book before. Ruth, grateful to be back online
From: Tonya Presley ( Date: Thursday, March 11, 1999 11:14 PM I'm still plugging along, not yet past the halfway mark. I know I'm going rather slow, but it's partly because I'm reading other things, and partly because I'm worried that there is so much going on, if I gulp it down something incomprehensible will pop up later and it will be my fault. For not reading carefully. And it is not my habit to read carefully. Ruth, on page 145, were you trying to get the answer to Q.5 before she gave it? Tonya, also glad to be back online!
From: Sherry Keller ( Date: Friday, March 12, 1999 06:49 AM I'm so busy with getting ready for the broker's open, that reading this book has come to a grinding halt. It's too bad, because I really like it. I'm a little past halfway. There's an odd quality of formality and devil-may-care in her writing that really appeals to me. Her use of different voices is very effective. I especially like Hattie Osborne's voice. I can just hear how it would sound in my mind. And Miss Porntip's voice (what a name, huh?) was really in my head. Sherry
From: R Bavetta ( Date: Friday, March 12, 1999 09:54 AM Ah, Miss Porntip---now there's a Dickensian name. Had to go back and check on p. 145, Tonya. Yes, I was pretty sure who she was referring to, weren't you? Ruth
From: Mary Anne Papale ( Date: Friday, March 12, 1999 11:30 AM I feel like there is a fair amount of satire on the mystery genre in this book. After all, the package of remains is received, some minor action is taken, but it takes more than 6 months for Liz to really swing into action. Not the kind of reaction we're used to seeing in those wonderful British mysteries. Also, the book-within-a-book, through the use of Stephen's notes, is well done. Drabble gets to give another point of view, such as the numbers of war casualties, through the review of Stephen's notes. Another aspect I liked was the "ensemble" of friends. *** SPOILER *** This made for several memorable scenes, particularly the memorial service and surrounding events. MAP
From: ANN DAVEY ( Date: Saturday, March 13, 1999 01:23 PM This is a long book, but, in the Penguin paperback edition at least, the print is large and the book is so engrossing that it goes fast. Jane, I also enjoyed Drabble's dry sense of humor. I was impressed by her ability to go off on so many seemingly different tangents and yet to tie the many characters of her story together with so many interwoven threads. The names were fun: Elizabeth Headleand for a psychiatrist, Stephen's kind landlord, Mr. Goodfellows, Liz's old beau, Roy Strangeways, etc., etc. The beginning of this book led me to expect more analysis of the Khmer Rouge and an explanation of what led their warped leaders to embark on their extermination of Cambodian culture and most of the educated populace. I was somewhat disappointed that Drabble never really followed through on this. Perhaps she found that evil on such a large scale defies rational explanation. Much as I enjoy reading about foreign locales, this book was most alive for me in the scenes set in England. Hattie was an interesting character, wasn't she? She was the only one who spoke to the reader directly, in first person. What do you suppose the significance of that was? Also a couple of questions for those who have finished the book. (***WARNING-POSSIBLE PLOT SPOILERS***) Do you think that Stephen was gay? Was he having a sexual affair with Konstantin? Was Konstantin a good guy, or a bad guy? Do you find it plausible that someone would send Stephen's personal affects back to England without some kind of message that he was dead? I interpreted the last page to mean that Mitra Akrun had joined the Khmer Rouge. Is that how you saw it? This is really a very enjoyable read, as well as a very thought provoking book. I hope more people will be able to finish it. Ann
From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Tuesday, March 16, 1999 04:52 AM I'm reading The Gates of Ivory too. I'd recommend it to anyone who hasn't picked it up yet. It's fun reading and, though it looks long, the pages fly by. This is wonderful print for those of us in the post-40's vision group (sorry, I can never remember the correct word for that condition). The print is very readable with nice spaces between the lines. I thought that the number of characters and time/place switches were going to bother me in the beginning, but they didn't and Drabble did use them to the story's advantage. This is one of those times that I'm grateful to Classics Corner for adding to my literary knowledge. Reading Conrad on CC last year adds a layer to my appreciation of this book though I would also have enjoyed it without that. I have an interview with Drabble that makes reference to The Gates of Ivory in my Eleanor Wachtel book. Haven't reread it (or any of the spoilers on here) for now but will get back with some quotes from it when I finish. I only have about 100 more pages to go. Barb
From: R Bavetta ( Date: Tuesday, March 16, 1999 01:20 PM Ann, I was just as glad that Drabble didn't go into too much about the background and motives of the Khmer Rouge. It might have overloaded the book. Besides, I don't think that's what the book was about. It was more about the attitudes and the reactions of Western Europeans towards the "undeveloped" nations, don't you think? Ruth
From: Patrick Nolan ( Date: Tuesday, March 16, 1999 02:10 PM Liz Headleand, by the way, also appears in the novels _The Radiant Way_ and _A Natural Curiosity._ I'm afraid I can't add much since it's been years since I read _The Gates of Ivory_, and even then it didn't really register all that well. One thing I find interesting about Drabble is her titles. They're always worth some examination--they're never just gratuitous allusions. For instance, _The Needle's Eye_ concerns itself very much with whether wealth is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing to have (cf. the biblical "easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven"). _The Realms of Gold_ is very concerned with travel ("oft have I traveled in realms of gold" -Keats). What relevance do Vergil's gates of horn and ivory have for Drabble's gates?
From: R Bavetta ( Date: Tuesday, March 16, 1999 02:54 PM I know nothing of Vergil's gates of horn and ivory, Patrick. Can you enlighten me? Ruth, woefully lacking in a Classical education
From: ANN DAVEY ( Date: Tuesday, March 16, 1999 09:40 PM I'm not so sure what the theme of the book was, Ruth. There was so much talk of "good time" and "bad time" and there was such a terrible contrast between the lives of those upper middle class English people and the Cambodian refugees and peasants that I thought maybe she was trying to show us just how lucky we have it. I also think she wanted to show how thin that line is between good time and bad time. We like to think that we in the West are immune to that kind of savagery, but there seems to be some deficiencies in human nature that put us all at risk. I think it is very interesting that the same characters reappear in Drabble's novels. I wonder how I would feel about meeting that earlier Liz Headleand. Ann
From: ANN DAVEY ( Date: Tuesday, March 16, 1999 09:58 PM Barb, I'm really glad you found the time to read this book. It is one of my favorite CR selections. I look forward to reading your comments when you have finished. Ann
From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Wednesday, March 17, 1999 05:53 AM I wrote a short note regarding this book last night and Ann has replied to it. However, I don't have the note on my webboard this morning. Obviously Ann did. Does everyone else? Barb
From: Sherry Keller ( Date: Wednesday, March 17, 1999 06:57 AM Barb, if you marked all read after you posted, your own note would disappear unless you look at all the messages, not just the unread messages. Click on the "Conferences" button and you will get all the messages. BTW, I finished GATES last night in a solid three hour blitz of reading (haven't been able to do that in a long time). I hope to cobble together a comment soon. Sherry
From: Sherry Keller ( Date: Wednesday, March 17, 1999 10:14 AM I think the theme goes deeper than how Westerners react to non-Western culture. I think it has to do with the ease the human character can embrace either good or evil and how sometimes good is evil and evil is good. Is there absolute good, absolute evil? Steven Cox crossed the membrane between Good Time into Bad Time and was amazed that he was so content there. "But even as he lay there, he felt a small pride in having got to the other side. It was an end in itself. It was not very interesting, there would be no revelation, no confrontation, no lights from heaven would flash, neither God nor Pol Pot would speak from the burning bush. There would be no message to take back to the shores of the living. There was simply this place. Why trouble oneself with messages? He had got here. Enough books, enough writings, enough reports. Why try to describe the real thing? It was not even very real. It was a shadow of a shadow on the wall of of a cave. There was nothing in the locked cabinet. Laissez passer, laissez passer." Sherry
From: R Bavetta ( Date: Wednesday, March 17, 1999 10:39 AM Ann and Sherry, upon further contemplation, I think you two are right about the theme of the book. I can't believe I finished it only a week ago, and I'd forgotten about all those comments about Good Time and Bad Time. That was an interesting concept, wasn't it? I still think, though, the reason we didn't get to learn that much about the Khmer Rouge, was because Drabble's point was not historical information, but a philosophical point of view. This was a very ambitious book. I know I've read some Drabble before, but it's been some time and I've forgotten which ones. I had a general feeling that I had pretty neutral feelings about her writing, but I was most impressed with Gates of Ivory. To have so many characters, to have so much philosophical musing (which can bring everything to a dead-in-the-water standstill if not handled right) and yet to keep everything moving along so that the book never loses momentum is quite a feat in itself. Ruth
From: ANN DAVEY ( Date: Wednesday, March 17, 1999 05:30 PM Sherry, Don't you think that at the end of his life Stephen just decided that none of it mattered anymore? I suspect that is a common reaction. It was interesting to me that Stephen was a left wing intellectual (at one point described as to the left of Pol Pot) forced to confront some of the worst consequences of his philosophy. Miss Porntip was, in contrast, the ultimate capitalist. Obviously, her beliefs also left a lot to be desired. Life's complicated and so were the ideas in this book. I liked that. Ann
From: Jane Niemeier ( Date: Wednesday, March 17, 1999 09:23 PM Hi all, I have been away for a few days, and I have enjoyed your notes. I think that this novel has hit me harder than the first time because of my consciousness of Good Time and Bad Time. If you live in this country you have to harden yourself to the poverty of the world. Here, we complain if our VCR isn't working, while in other countries, people have to live in cardboard boxes. In a material sense we all live in Good Time, but because of our loneliness, we sometimes live in Bad Time at the same time. Jane who is one page 400
From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Thursday, March 18, 1999 04:16 AM This was an odd one, Sherry. I had forgotten to mark the messages read, came back in the morning and found the messages I'd read the night before, plus some new ones, but not my message. However, when I checked the conferences this morning, it was there. Barb
From: Sherry Keller ( Date: Thursday, March 18, 1999 06:16 AM Barb, that is strange. Sherry
From: Mary Anne Papale ( Date: Thursday, March 18, 1999 07:13 AM Sherry, I like your comments about good being evil and evil being good. That aspect, I think, makes TGOI even more Conrad-like than I suspected at first blush. I haven't thought much about the possible implications of the title and would be happy for some enlightenment in that regard. MAP
From: Dale Short ( Date: Thursday, March 18, 1999 04:55 PM At one point in TGOI, Ms. Porntip asks Stephen to refer to her as "O," as in STORY OF O. I know it's classic erotica, but can't remember any details (a sure sign of an aging brain {G}). Isn't there something darker at work in that book, such as an undertone--maybe even an overtone--of S&M? Dale in Ala.
From: Dale Short ( Date: Thursday, March 18, 1999 05:10 PM I just thought to check for a synopsis of STORY OF O: not only is the theme domination/submission, but the male lead is named Stephen. Hmmm. Coincidence, do you think? Dale, headed back toward the gates for more
From: ANN DAVEY ( Date: Thursday, March 18, 1999 07:33 PM Dale, I am quite sure that nothing in Drabble is accidental. (G) Mary Anne, the title interested me too. There is that quote from THE ODYSSEY before the book starts that says that dreams come to us through two gates: the one of horn, through which true dreams come, and the other of ivory. "The dreams that come to us through the traitor ivory deceive us with false images of what will never come to pass..." So, I think the title means that the characters' ideas about the Southeast Asia and Cambodia, socialism and capitalism --maybe most everything-- are false, based on illusions. The reality is much more complicated than they realize at the beginning. If you have the big Penguin paperback edition, there are also references to the "gates of ivory" on pages 102, 166, and 417. The first reference is to a book in Miss Porntip's library about films with an Asian setting. They conjure up an "exotic mirage of an oriental culture that never existed and never will existed. The dreams of the gates of ivory." The second reference is to the poet Rimbaud who worked around the Horn of Africa, gun-running, dealing in hides and ivory and slaves. "The gates of ivory, the gates of horn." (BTW, I sure wish Drabble had provided English translation of the French poems she quotes. ) In the last reference, Liz remembers a dream "in which Stephen returned through the ivory gates to tell her that everything was all right." This, of course, was false, since he came through the ivory gates. Ann
From: Jane Niemeier ( Date: Thursday, March 18, 1999 09:11 PM Ann and Dale, Your notes are very interesting. I always have trouble remembering the title of this book because I remember that the gates are in some way sending out false messages, so I I assume that it is the GATES OF HORN. I always associate ivory with the beauty of the elephant and with the pure ivory color. Ann, even though Liz's Stephen dream may be false, it seems to give her great comfort and to heal her from her illness. So then, can it really be false? I just don't know. I love the humor involved in the planning of Stephen's memorial service. Drabble is very subtle with her humor. Dale, I made the same connection about "The Story of O". I remember seeing that film playing in the art theater near Indiana University, and I was afraid to go in, because I had heard that it was pornographic. The innocence of youth! There are so many things in this book. Jane
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (28 of 53), Read 25 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Mary Anne Papale ( Date: Friday, March 19, 1999 08:09 AM And speaking of illness, Liz had several during the course of this book: the ankle problem and the Toxic Shock Syndrome scare, to name two. It may not be funny to our male readers, but I got a kick out of the perimenopausal Liz rooting around in her purse for a beat up tampon. This is just one example of how Liz seems hobbled and hampered throughout. MAP
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (29 of 53), Read 24 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Dale Short ( Date: Friday, March 19, 1999 05:14 PM The cynical/hip urban-professional tone of Liz's opening sections of the book left me totally unprepared for the story of Mme. Akrun and her missing son (beginning at page 131 in my Viking hardcover), which I thought was both beautifully written and heartbreaking. Without overreaching into sentimentality, it conveyed to me the human cost of war like nothing I've read since CORRELLI'S MANDOLIN. And juxtaposing it with Liz and a buddy chatting about supermarket brands only made it more powerful. Drabble has my attention and my respect; handling an omniscient point of view, multiple characters, and a dual timeline besides is devilishly difficult, and she does it with such elan. I was particularly struck by the line, "Too easily we take refuge with the known. Particular anguish, particular pain, is, in its way, comfortable. Unless, of course, it happens to be our own." Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (30 of 53), Read 25 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Jane Niemeier ( Date: Friday, March 19, 1999 08:50 PM Dale and all, There is a passage on p. 442 during the memorial service that hit me hard. "Brian Bowen, listening, himself reprieved for a while from degeneration and humiliation and death, sees the face of his friend at the age of twenty: ardent, diffident, tenacious. Brian owes his career and his education to Stephen Cox. He owes his life to Stephen Cox. He will never have another such friend. He sees himself and Stephen, lying in the long grass in Dorset, reading, chatting, smoking, in the springtime of their days." A friend that I hadn't seen in nine years died in December. And although we had lost touch, he still means a lot to me. He was one of my running buddies from my youth. This passage just fit. Jane
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (31 of 53), Read 25 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: ANN DAVEY ( Date: Saturday, March 20, 1999 09:14 AM Dale and Jane, Thanks for quoting those passages, both of which I also found very moving. Dale, Mme Akrun's son keeps coming up. In fact, the last paragraph in the book concerns him. (No, don't peek ahead - G ) I think I know how to interpret it, but let me know what you think when you get there. In addition to making me smile often and making me feel deeply from time to time, Drabble made me think a lot. There is a really interesting section almost in the middle of the book (p. 173 of the Penguin paperback) where stepson and political theorist Alan Headleand thinks about Liz's question: Do people behave worse en masse than as individuals? Alan believes that man is born free and good of heart. It is society that corrupts, society that forges the manacles. Yet society itself is composed of human beings, is it not? Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had told us that there is no such thing as society. There are only individuals. So, the individual is progressive and flexible, while the mass is primitive and punitive? The mass throws the stones, but the individual hesitates to cast the first stone? Or is the savage selfish individual socialized for the higher good of the group. ...Is man a herd animal or a horde animal? Discuss. None of us would want to return man to his original primitive, savage state. Yet society and its institutions can also be very corrupting. Those of the Nazis and Khmer Rouge, for example, were terribly destructive. I like to think our own operate positively in most cases. In reading The Prince on Classics Corner, I was struck by the fact that the lack of stable political institutions and government gave free rein to amoral and ambitious political leaders to wreck havoc on the rest of society. Ah, well, forgive my musings. I do think Drabble poses interesting questions. Like most broad philosophical questions, I suppose the answers must usually start with "It depends---" Ann
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (32 of 53), Read 22 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Saturday, March 20, 1999 04:51 PM I finished this book yesterday and am very glad I read it. Reading Fitzgerald and Cheever recently made me long for strong women characters and this book was the perfect antidote. I also hadn't read Drabble before and it sounds like this is a strong introduction to her work. Did anyone else find themselves feeling a bit removed from the characters initially? I wasn't sure that I cared much about these upper middle class intellectuals who seemed a bit cold. And, I wondered if Drabble did this purposely since the Good Time/Bad Time contrast was so important to the story. You really had to see at least some of the concerns in their lives as trivial in the contrast. However, as the story went on, I found myself liking these British characters enormously. If nothing else, their frequent honesty about themselves was very refreshing. I think I'd like to read the other two books in this trilogy. I have some very interesting observations from Drabble in an interview with her done by Eleanor Wachtel in a book called Writers and Company from a PBS program. Will excerpt some of it in the next note. Barb
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (33 of 53), Read 23 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Jane Niemeier ( Date: Saturday, March 20, 1999 08:54 PM Ann and Barbara, I really enjoyed your notes. Ann, I found that passage you quoted to be very thought-provoking as well. I think that Drabble answered the question when she gave the statistics for all of the mass murders in history. Pol Pot killed people because they wore eyeglasses. I guess that most of us would be dead according to his rules. Barbara, I liked the characters from the very beginning. I found that they have some of the same questions about life that I do. When I wrote to Drabble, I suggested that she consider having a movie made of this film, because the characters are so vivid. I think from her short response that she would like to do so but is waiting for an offer. Jane
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (34 of 53), Read 21 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: ANN DAVEY ( Date: Saturday, March 20, 1999 11:08 PM Jane, it seems to me that leaders like Pol Pot and Hitler are so far off base they are insane. What always amazes me is that monsters like them can find so many followers. Barb, actually, I think I either liked the characters right off the bat or not at all. I liked Liz and Alix a lot, but I found it difficult to warm up to Stephen at all. While Hattie amused me, I could not like her. She was a real taker. I also enjoyed reading about the strong women characters. Most of the time you only find them in books written by women authors. How would you compare Drabble and her sister A. S. Byatt? These two siblings would be pretty tough to compete with. I wonder if they have other sisters or brothers. Ann
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (35 of 53), Read 22 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Edd Houghton ( Date: Sunday, March 21, 1999 01:44 AM ANN I think it is more likely that there are radical movements with lots of disconnected weirdos. And for some cosmic reason beyond me, a figure head arrives who is some sort of a consensus for all of these people. In the case of Hitler, someone who could push all of the right buttons; the Jewish bigotry, the Nationalistic myth that Germany had not lost WWI, but was "cheated" out of a win, the Communist scare. And throw that in with an existing government that was unpopular, and you have the Third Reich. I'm not familiar with Pohl Pot, but I would guess that it was some similar story. And isn't it funny but after these guys gain control, there is no way in hell of getting them out. EDD
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (36 of 53), Read 21 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Sunday, March 21, 1999 09:38 AM Ann, I find Byatt's writing to be denser in the sense of more words, all meaningful, which you need to go back and reread sometimes. Drabble's writing seems almost deceptively more readable and yet, on reflection, she's crowding as much in there as her sister. I think it's probably easier to enjoy Drabble's writing on more levels, with a lighter touch if that's what you want but then deeper and deeper depending on how much time and thought you want to expend. The following is some of Eleanor Wachtel's interview with her from Writers and Company which is also a Canadian PBS show from what I understand: WACHTEL: The Gates of Ivory, your latest novel and the final part in a trilogy, is about a writer who goes to Cambodia, the scene of one of the worst cases of genocide since the Second World War. It has been described as a kind of Heart of Darkness. In fact, many of your characters are reading Conrad during the course of the book. The first sentence is: "This is a novel--if novel it be--about Good Time and Bad time." Why did you move the central moral action of your book outside of England--beyond the urban comfort zone, if you like, the location of most of your novels--to this other place, to the Bad Time? DRABBLE: I've always wanted to write a novel about the Bad Time, a book that wasn't wholly based in Britain, but I hadn't really felt I'd had the experience or the knowledge to do it. While writing earlier novels I was aware that other writers, like Conrad and Hemingway, wrote the kinds of books that I myself had never attempted. So I suppose it was in part a challenge; though, of course, when one looks at the book, one sees that it is also quite closely anchored in Good Time, because I could not set a whole book abroad; I have to keep referring back. Also, I use parallels between the two. I'm writing about the Bad Times of Britain as well. WACHTEL: The novel credits the idea of Good Time and Bad Time to critic George Steiner. DRABBLE: Steiner uses it, I think, in one of his discussions of the Holocaust. He is talking about the nature of time and how in a Polish village next to a concentration camp, people just carried on their ordinary business, pretending not to know what was happening a mile down the road. He has this concept about loops in time and the connections between times. It's a concept that William Shawcross also uses in his books about Cambodia. I became fascinated by the fact that we in Britain, and no doubt in Canada too--in the Good Times of the West--can just switch on our telly and for entertainment look at the people having a Bad Time. WACHTEL: More and more detachment. DRABBLE: And more and more media coverage. You could say that those Polish peasants who pretended not to know what was happening down the road were even more detached than we are. I think it is an open question whether increased media coverage makes us more or less detached, but it's a question I wanted to put. More later.... Barb
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (37 of 53), Read 22 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Dale Short ( Date: Sunday, March 21, 1999 10:35 AM Barb: Great quotes from Drabble. More, please, when you can. Here's a brief section from an essay I did a couple of years ago, on the nature of evil, for Oxford American. I think it may have a bearing on the Cambodian chapters of TGOI: *** ..."The death of Satan," Wallace Stevens wrote, "was a tragedy for the imagination... How cold the vacancy when the phantoms are gone, and the shaken realist first sees reality..." Andrew Delbanco, in his recent book THE DEATH OF SATAN: HOW AMERICANS HAVE LOST THE SENSE OF EVIL, contends: "A gulf has opened up in our culture, between the visibility of evil and the intellectual resources available for coping with it. Never before have images of horror been so widely disseminated and so appalling--from organized death camps to children starving in famines that might have been averted. "The repertoire of evil has never been richer. Yet never have our responses been so weak. We have no language for connecting our inner lives with the horrors that pass before our eyes in the outer world. We shudder or wince, then we switch the channel." Delbanco concludes that the situation amounts to nothing less than "a crisis of our incompetence before evil," which he takes as the theme of his book. This has come about in part, he says, because "we have an inescapable problem: we feel something that our culture no longer gives us the vocabulary to express." Evidence of Delbanco's supposed gulf is not hard to find in our lives. What humane person, for instance, would argue that the Holocaust was not "evil"? Or slavery? Or serial murder? Or any number of modern-day terrorist acts and genocidal crusades? "Evil" is clearly still acceptable as a descriptor of past events, and even, in extreme cases, of the individuals who perpetrated them. Use "evil" as the *subject* of a sentence, though--or venture the word "demon" or "possession" outside a discussion of some primitive tribe--and you're automatically branded as a crank, or a fanatic, or worse. How have we come to a schism between thought and language of such Orwellian proportion? Even Delbanco, in his remarkably even-handed treatment of the subject, at one point declares peremptorily, "We certainly no longer have a conception of evil as a distributed entity with an ontological essence of its own, as what some philosophers call 'presence.'" He immediately counters with, "Yet something that feels like this force still invades our experience, and we still discover in ourselves the capacity to inflict it on others." We can change the channel all we want, but the mystery only deepens... *** Comments welcomed, Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (38 of 53), Read 24 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Sunday, March 21, 1999 02:16 PM More from Drabble's interview:{SPOILER ALERT} WACHTEL: With this kind of novel, there seems to be an inevitability that the "hero" must die, as in Conrad's "Mistah Kurtz, he dead" and the movie Apocalypse Now. Death does seem to be what lies right at the heart of darkness. DRABBLE: That's true. And, of course, that death represents only one amongst one or two million deaths. In the last few years quite a few war reporters, journalists and cameramen have also been killed, so the writer Stephen is a symbol of that, of how it's not safe even for a man from the Good Time. You can get caught up in it; it can go wrong for you. WACHTEL: Is that a way of making death more real and immediate, the death of a man from the Good Time, a man whom we might recognize more easily? DRABBLE: Yes, though I would feel completely fraudulent writing from the point of view of a Cambodian soldier caught up in the strife, or a Cambodian terrorist. It's easier for me to observe it through the eyes of a Westerner. I did write from the point of view of some Cambodian characters, but not those actively involved in the warfare. I only wrote from the point of view of those who were hopeless, who were victims. I found this easier. The Cambodian characters I described are victims, and Stephen is also a victim. I couldn't find it in myself to write about the military or the murderous act. I did talk to and read the testimony of people who had trampled through the mountains and whose families had died on the way. But I couldn't see the whole drama through the eyes of a Cambodian; I had to reflect it, using as a prism Stephen's vision of their suffering. {end of excerpt} I thought this and the other excerpt lent some insight into our questions of whether this is really a Cambodian story. It sounds like Drabble meant it as the study of how such different worlds on the Good/Bad Time continuum can exist so closely and with some basic humanity in common and have the results of each be so diffent. Stephen would seem to have been safe (wrapped in his origins from Good Time) and yet even he was ultimately vulnerable. Until I got to the end of the story, I was somehow sure that he would survive. I'm kind of impressed in this interview by Drabble's willingness to nail down verbally what she was doing. I find that authors usually try to be more mysterious about it. I did have a sense that she respected Wachtel a great deal which might have something to do with it. Barb
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (39 of 53), Read 27 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: R Bavetta ( Date: Sunday, March 21, 1999 10:04 PM I don't feel that this was essentially a Cambodian story. It was a human story, told using the Cambodian situation. That's why I think the specific politics and military activities of Pol Pot were beside the point.Drabble was painting on a larger canvas. Ruth
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (40 of 53), Read 23 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Dale Short ( Date: Monday, March 22, 1999 08:29 AM Do I remember that the real Pol Pot died only a few months ago, of "natural causes" in some mountain hideout? I seem to recall a mention in the news headlines, but no details. What strange lives these guys must lead, among a small band of fanatic supporters, after fleeing the limelight just a step ahead of retribution. Which reminds me of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's beautiful short novel on roughly that subject, NOBODY WRITES TO THE COLONEL. Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (41 of 53), Read 25 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: ANN DAVEY ( Date: Monday, March 22, 1999 08:44 AM Edd, Yes, it seems to be a combination of many adverse factors that allow these monsters to gain power. In Germany's case, I think the severe economic problems were a very important factor as well.In Cambodia, the American bombing and extension of the Vietnamese War provided the social and political dislocation that made Pol Pot possible. Still I never cease to be amazed that these men could gain control of entire countries: a man who proposed to eliminate the entire Jewish population (he set out his ideas in MEIN KAMPF before he gained power) or a leader who was so nuts that wearing glasses made you a public enemy. Was this mass psychosis or just people preferring to look the other way because these leaders offered them things they wanted? Dale, in this modern age we seem to be always looking for excuses for evil -- bad childhood, bad genes, etc., etc. Maybe we just have to accept the fact that inexcusable evil exists and that it can never be "explained." Barb, thanks so much for those quotes from the Drabble interview. I understand better now why she wrote about Cambodia so much from the outside, English view. She was honest enough to admit that she did not feel qualified to write about it from a strictly Cambodian viewpoint. That explains to me why she didn't delve more into the causes of the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Stick to writing about what you know -- I guess that is one of the prime rules of good writing. Occasionally an author can pull off writing from the perspective of another culture or opposite sex, but it is rare. I think Golden did this in MEMOIRES OF A GEISHA, although Ruth would probably disagree with me there. (G). I agree that Drabble is easier to read than Byatt because her prose is less dense and she writes with more wit. I expected Drabble to be more of a light weight, but I can see that I was wrong. What did you think of Stephen in the book?
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (42 of 53), Read 24 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Monday, March 22, 1999 04:49 PM Ann, I was surprised that Stephen was as old as he was. I know they made references to him as "an old man" at the end of the book, but I thought it was just due to his illness. I had thought that he was about 35, despite the fact that I knew Liz was older and there was speculation about a possible romance between them. I probably should also have taken a cue from the amount of his published writing. At the end, when they said he was 55, I was surprised and realized that it was because of his political opinions. They seemed the opinions of a very naive, younger person who was just beginning to be a bit skeptical. It's not that I think that only young people have liberal political beliefs (since I think of myself as a liberal), but the feelings that he had recently held about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot seemed like ones I would have only held in my 20's before watching some results. Can't resist adding one more excerpt from the interview on this topic-- WACHTEL: Pol Pot had some French education. Is there a sense in which Stephen, as a lapsed leftist, thinks that Western ideas, "the French disease", as he calls it, contributed to Pol Pot's becoming a mass murderer. Does Stephen feel guilty about that? DRABBLE: Yes, I think he does. An awful lot of people on the left do feel that they were fellow-travellers and that they should have known what was coming. There were many apologists for the Khmer Rouge; in fact, I've met one or two of them still going strong, which is interesting. There is something very honourable about them when they keep on saying, Yes, but I do believe in equality, I do believe in Year Zero, I do believe in the French Revolution. We hear very little of that now. Stephen went off hoping that it might not look as black as it was painted, hoping against hope that socialism or communism wasn't the disaster that it actually turns out to have been. WACHTEL: Is that the delusion invoked in your title? You quote a passage from Homer's Odyssey in which the gates of ivory are the gates of false dreams, and the gates of horn are where reality resides. DRABBLE: In fact, I started off calling this novel "The Gates of Horn", which could apply equally well. Stephen does go through the gates of horn. Death is about the only reality we can be certain of. Yes, I suppose it was the dream, the dream of socialism, the dream of a better life, the delusive dream. There's quite a lot of dreaming in this book. I'm interested in dreams and some dreams tell you the truth. {End of excerpt} You know, I didn't really think of Stephen as a "lapsed liberal", but that's Wachtel using that term, not Drabble. I thought he was simply becoming disillusioned by the Khmer Rouge experience. However, I thought that the question of western liberal guilt about what happened with the Khmer Rouge was interesting. Also, I wanted to add the part about the title. It answers some of our questions. Barb
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (43 of 53), Read 26 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Monday, March 22, 1999 04:57 PM More about Stephen-- I wasn't drawn a lot to Stephen's character, Ann. He seemed in such a dream-like state, always letting events work on him once he had made the aggressive moves of going to Cambodia in the first place and then pushing about actually going into the territory of the Khmer Rouge (and even that was in more of a following mode). Actually, I think he seemed depressed to me and somewhat self-destructive from the beginning, as I look back (my hindsight is probably affecting that impression). I know you mentioned earlier that you weren't crazy about Hattie and I wasn't really either. I did like the effect that her "voice" had interspersed with the others though and thought that it was good technique on Drabble's part. She was such a contrast with Liz. I couldn't figure out why she was addressing the reader directly (as someone else pointed out here...was it you?) when none of the other characters did. Barb
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (44 of 53), Read 21 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Jane Niemeier ( Date: Monday, March 22, 1999 09:02 PM What wonderful comments from all of you! Dale, your essay is right on this topic. I think that we had a discussion about evil when we read BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy. There is a definite sense of evil in the world during all time periods. Some people are more likely to give in to it than others. Drabble mentions this when she talks about the crowd mentality. It is certainly easier to follow the crowd as we all know. Barb, I also felt that Stephen had a death wish, because several times, he says, "Well, this is it; I am going to die." I remember that this happened when he and the people who had been to the refugee camp were stopped by the tank. He seemed to be waiting for death to catch him. I rather like Hattie because of her absolute honesty about herself. At least to us, she is honest. Perhaps, she wasn't so honest to her acquaintances. As most of you know, I LOVE A.S. Byatt, and I do see a difference in her style of writing, but I think both authors are fantastic. Jane who has been jotting down random thoughts here
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (45 of 53), Read 24 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: R Bavetta ( Date: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 12:48 AM Jane, I like Drabble much better than Byatt. I've been mulling over why this is. I guess to really be able to answer it I'd need to go back and read some more Byatt, but I think it's because Drabble's book is complex and layered, but her writing style is more straightforward and less knotty. And I liked Hattie's voice, too. I'm attracted to a no nonsense person who's not afraid of the truth. Ruth
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (46 of 53), Read 20 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 05:02 AM Maybe Hattie is talking directly to the reader because of the directness of her personality in contrast to the other characters--that "no nonsense person who is not afraid of the truth" quality as Ruth describes it. I, too, liked that aspect of her. However, she also seemed like such a "taker" to me, someone who was willing to coast on her looks until she couldn't do that anymore and then ride along on whatever else she could skim from other people. I've known people like her before and a bit of them goes a long way. I think I like Drabble and Byatt equally. They are just different. I love Byatt's attempts to convert Victorian to contemporary writing. And, have you read that book of her three novellas/short stories? I think its title was The Matisse Stories. Her writing in those was much more simple, more on the order of Drabble's though very much still her own style. Barb
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (47 of 53), Read 23 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Dale Short ( Date: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 09:42 AM I, too, was surprised by Stephen's age. I don't know that he had a death wish, exactly, but it seemed to me throughout that he was either clinically depressed or suffering from some unnamed illness or both. In any event, his self-preservation machinery was certainly not hitting on all cylinders. I developed a real fondness for Hattie as things went along; not that I'd care to sit next to her at a long dinner party, but her honesty is refreshing and her own self-preservation strategies endearing, albeit in small doses. For some reason I had an instant dislike for Aaron when he was introduced watching his play, but I did a complete turnaround when he and Hattie hooked up and wished the best for them both. On a different note...I would guess that TGOI has the highest percentage of feminine hygiene-related content of any contemporary novel I can recall. At one point, Drabble pulls from nowhere a quote by combat nurses in Vietnam that their worst fear was of being captured without an adequate tampon supply--obviously hard for someone of my gender to fully appreciate. Do you think Drabble bore down on this for Third World contrast purposes--i.e., the sort of hothouse biosystems we've all become with modern conveniences, pharmaceuticals, etc.--or is there more (or less) at work here? One more thing: I thought that the interspersing of dream-like segments such as "The Fever Hospital" was beautifully done, but could never be sure who or where the voice was. A sort of mythology, maybe, showing horrible events turned into a history distant enough that it can be converted into fables and beliefs? And maybe the hint that in our "enlightened" age this is a consolation that we lack? Just thinking out loud, here, as is my wont. {G} Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (48 of 53), Read 26 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 04:04 PM Dale, I do think that the feminine hygiene angle was one of the many comparisons of life in good time/bad time that went on in the book. I thought that there was incredible irony in most of them. The Cambodian women didn't even need to think about such issues because most of them had simply stopped menstruating in reaction to their life conditions. Another stark comparison was the health care that Stephen had when he had something as serious as malaria and the health care received by Liz for possible toxic shock (highly unlikely diagnosis, I thought) because she had bothered, or had been lucky enough, to make the right connections before she left. Separate from all the reasons for including it though, I thought the description, on pg. 379 of the Penguin edition, of Liz, surrounded by ultimate issues, being only concerned about the condition of her skirt when she rises was one of the most accurate passages ever written. It was probably one of the parts of the book that made me like Drabble the most. Barb
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (49 of 53), Read 22 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Dale Short ( Date: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 06:28 PM Speaking of the Third World and excellent fiction, before I forget it let me recommend a dynamite novel I hope some of you will try when you've recuperated from TGOI. For my money, Russell Banks's CONTINENTAL DRIFT is the Great American Novel of our half-century, at least. Like Drabble, he takes the ambitious tack of parallel narratives: an aging fuel-oil deliveryman in New England who moves with his wife to Florida for a new start, in business with his brother; and a woman and children in a tiny island village threatened by a typhoon. By the time you realize how the two stories are going to intersect, the effect and scope are devastating and, for me, unforgettable. I have immense respect for Banks's talent. Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (50 of 53), Read 25 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: ANN DAVEY ( Date: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 07:10 PM Stephen made me sad. I agree that he was depressed. He had a very sterile and repressed childhood, totally dominated by an over-controlling mother who was "red-faced, solid-salt-of-the earth, bitter, bad-tempered, coy,immature, self-sacrificing, and deeply, deeply self-centered..."She managed to persuade her boys that all girls were dirty and dishonest.". (p. 104, Penguin paperback). There seems to have been no love in his home at all. His father was rarely there and said nothing. His brothers called him "Little shitty pants." His mother did not want him to have friends. His romantic relationships were unsuccessful. Liz speculates about him, "I don't think Stephen liked women, as such. I think they nauseated him...It's funny really, because he was always a good friend to women."(p. 48) He didn't seem to be the kind of person who could have a have a happy sexual relationship with a man either. Basically, I don't think that Stephen liked himself and that was at the core of his problems. He describes himself on p. 105 to Miss Porntip: "There is no consistency in me. No glue. No paste. I have no cohesion. I make no sense. I am a vacuum. I am fragments. I am morsels... The people I like I don't approve...The women I like I cannot love. The women I love I cannot like. The life I seek I could not endure. I seek a land where the water flows uphill. I seek simplicity." Yes, he is definitely a lost soul. He goes off to Cambodia with only vague goals because he really doesn't care what happens to himself any more. I think you could make a good case that he has a death wish. Barb, I agree with you about Hattie. She was a user who didn't have a giving bone in her entire body. Now that unsavory capitalist siren, Miss Porntip, at least did nice things for people. She was a real help to Liz, for example, even though she didn't stand to gain much from the relationship. Yeah, I'd take Miss Porntip over Hattie any day. Hattie was honest, but only with the reader and possibly herself, not with the other characters. Ann
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (51 of 53), Read 27 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Jane Niemeier ( Date: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 08:23 PM Ann, I think that you are correct about Stephen's miserable childhood, and I had already forgotten about that part. One of the many great things about discussing topics here is that you all bring up such good points. You are my collective memory. Dale, I wondered a bit if Drabble didn't bring up the feminine hygiene issue because it has always been such a taboo subject. It was great to read the thoughts of these women and to see that they have the same worries that real women do. It made these characters seem very real. I don't know if girls are more frank about menstruating than we were, but I hope so. I remember when the most embarrassing thing that could happen to a girl is if a tampon fell out of her purse. What a scandal! Jane
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (52 of 53), Read 26 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Tonya Presley ( Date: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 09:14 PM I finished this book a few days ago, but between the Oscar party and this and that, I haven't caught up reading the notes. So, I don't want to cover old territory, I'll just mention one or two things that stood out to me. First, all the factual tidbits, I wonder are they true. The first that caught my attention is on pg. 25: "Since the war ended, 60,000 veterans have committed suicide, more than the number killed in combat," Could this be true? The number seems enormous! Then another was the two most recognizable logos in the world -- I got a kick out of testing my friends with that. A couple of recurring subjects: "water flowing uphill" is mentioned throughout the book. Is this a reference to some other book I haven't read? Did someone use that to describe an Eden somewhere? Paul Whitmore, the serial killer: Why did he keep coming up? Was it to contrast horrible death in Good Time with death in Bad Time? Near the end of the book, he attempted suicide. Brian (Alix's husband) who was thought to be fatally ill recovered. Liz was very sick, and she recovered. Lots of health concerns in this book, which made sense relevant to the suffering in Cambodia, but Paul Whitmore was always an unexpected interjection. Tonya (gotta get M. asleep, more after I read these tons of notes.)
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (53 of 53), Read 19 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Dale Short ( Date: Wednesday, March 24, 1999 09:46 AM Tonya: The number of vets who have committed suicide--often in concert with serious drug abuse, alcoholism, or both--does indeed sound high but is in line with the info I got from professionals when researching a piece on post-traumatic stress disorder last year. Some even think the total is seriously under-reported, not accounting for other deaths in problematic circumstances. Another surprising statistic they gave was that the largest single category of homeless persons in many large cities today is Vietnam veterans. I recall Denver and a few others being mentioned, with figures as high as 30 to 40 percent. Definitely a tragedy of astonishing proportions, which in large part has been swept under the societal rug. Dale in Ala. Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (41 of 44), Read 14 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Catherine Hill ( Date: Tuesday, April 06, 1999 08:52 PM Okay, I'm finally back online after finishing TGOI. First off, I was irritated with Stephen from the get-go; he was obviously a guy who didn't want to be helped or to make a go of himself. Should Liz have asked him to stay for her? Absolutely not!! I was really turned off by his apparently abiding belief in that "return to simplicity". This is not, I notice, a typical delusion of women. Of course, it bites at me because at a very early age I realized that without modern technology I wouldn't be here. Yes, I read in the paper a few months ago that Pol Pot is finally dead, and I'm glad to know it after all those alternate locations suggested for him and other characters. I got the point of the exercise but found it a little irritating. Really, my favorite characters were Miss Porntip and Hattie. They got on with life rather than being stuck in some sort of intellectual/emotional quagmire, as I felt most of the characters were. Liz did show amazing practicality in her trip to the East - getting up contacts and keeping in touch seem good ways to insure you'll survive. The overall picture I got is that modern liberal and moral assumptions have somehow come adrift in lives and everybody is floundering around in the debris. CFH
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (42 of 44), Read 15 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Ann Davey ( Date: Tuesday, April 06, 1999 09:14 PM Cathy, Well, maybe that was one of the main points -- the uselessness of the middle class, left-wing English intellectual. In my opinion Stephen was damaged (horrible mother, you know - G-), and I never expected much from him. I certainly didn't think he and Liz ever had a future. I agree with you about Miss Porntip, but I disliked Hattie thoroughly. She would have walked all over her best friend if she could have got the tiniest benefit for herself out of it. Ann
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (43 of 44), Read 14 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Dale Short ( Date: Tuesday, April 06, 1999 09:40 PM Cathy: Good to have you back. I agree, re: Miss Porntip "getting on with life." I'm thinking that when the New World Order (whatever that is) comes to pass, the Miss Porntips of the planet will be holding all the marbles. Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble (44 of 44), Read 7 times Conf: CONSTANT READER From: Barbara Moors ( Date: Wednesday, April 07, 1999 06:46 AM So....did you like the book, Cathy? I detect a few notes of impatience{g}. I did like Liz a lot. There was a no-nonsense and honest quality about her that I far preferred to Hattie. I liked Miss Porntip a bit too, but I kept getting a sense of danger in her relationship with Stephen. In retrospect, I think that was probably Stephen's perception more than reality. Glad to see you back on-line. Has your computer been down or have you just been incredibly busy? Barb


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