Halfway through her new novel, Margaret Drabble tells us of Anna, the pure gold baby of the title, ‘There was no story to her life, no plot.’ That statement is partly true. It is also a challenge, a gauntlet cast by this very knowing writer at the reader’s feet; in terms of Drabble’s narrative, it is something of a mission statement.
Seven years after her last novel, and despite suggestions (by herself) that her fiction-writing days were over, Drabble has written a novel that consistently resists readers’ simplest assumptions. The Pure Gold Baby is a fiction apparently based on fact, which works hard to suggest that it has no pattern, no plot and will reach no neat ending. Drabble’s rationale suits her subject: her chief focus is the life of Anna’s mother, Jess, over a 50-year period, beginning in the Sixties.