It may be that you have to be a woman of a certain age to really empathize with Candida Wilton, the protagonist of Margaret Drabble’s The Seven Sisters. She is a washed-up character. She is nearing 60, has been left by her husband, is estranged from her three daughters, has never held a job, and is remote and prim. She is alone in London, trying to remake her life in a seedy section of town after a move from Suffolk, the scene of her married years.
Candida makes a few acquaintances in a class on Virgil’s Aeneid at a nearby adult education center. When she receives an unexpected windfall, she invites two of them and their Virgil teacher, along with two friends from Suffolk, to join her on a trip retracing Aeneas’s journey from Carthage to Italy. With their bus driver, they make up the Seven Sisters, a reference to a classical myth. The dream trip does not produce a moment of sudden enlightenment, but Candida’s self-awareness has fortified her for whatever is ahead. At the start she was a woman to whom “nothing much happens . . . nor ever will again.” While we don’t know where she’s headed at the end, she is facing the future with some connections, some pleasures, and more hope and courage.
Because The Seven Sisters is about a woman’s quest to find her voice, Drabble uses different narrative techniques, including Candida’s diary, third-person narrative, and a section ostensibly written by one of Candida’s daughters that we later find out wasn’t. The switching is an interesting if not always successful approach.
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