Picks and Pans Review: The Witch of Exmoor

updated 10/06/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/1997 01:00AM

by Margaret Drabble

This is a scalding brew of a novel in which Drabble plays the old game of shock-the-bourgeoisie by ruthlessly examining one English family's folly and fall. The witch of the title is Frieda Haxby Palmer, a 60-ish writer and eccentric who is fed up with her smugly middle-class children, stung by the reviews of her latest book, and disgusted by the greed and consumerism engulfing her world. So she abandons her silver Saab in the middle of a London traffic jam, sues Her Majesty's government over her tax returns, sells the family estate and buys a derelict mansion on England's west coast. There she writes her memoirs and revels in her children's growing unease over her sanity (not to mention her last will and testament). In this insightful work—part mystery, part fairy tale, part Jamesian portrait—Drabble dissects contemporary British society with a wicked, dead-on wit. (Harcourt Brace, $23)

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