The Garrick Year : review

The back flap of The Garrick Year, on my 1980s copy on loan from the Oakland library, reads:

After graduating from Cambridge University with honors, Miss Drabble joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford. She is married to an actor and has two small children. The Garrick Year is her second novel.

Funnily enough, the book is about a young English woman, married to an actor, with two small children. They move to a small English town for a season when the husband gets an acting gig in a summer festival. Already, the parallels of autobiography and plot run tight. The book self-consciously attempts to express a young woman navigating wifedom and motherhood in shifting 1960s England, but does so with enough clarity and insight to never sound pandering.

The story begins with Emma, the narrator, reflecting upon her Garrick year  (Garrick I believe being a playwright of one of the plays her husband acted in). She is loathe to move from London, as she had employment as a television announcer for the summer, but instead agrees, almost to her own surprise, to move to a small English village for the summer.

Despite the bohemian inclinations of her husband’s theater crew, Emma is self-consciously middle class at home. She has a French nanny to help with her two small children, Joe and Flora, but exists in a world of detached proximity with her, for if they bonded they would have to recognize the economic bonds between them. She looks for the approval of her childhood friend’s family, who she runs into, for this family provided the stability her own family lacked.

Emma self-describes herself as beautiful, and her husband and others constantly reminder her that she is attractive. Yet she is very aware of a simultaneous invisibility that comes from being a wife and mother. Emma dresses up for theater parties, only to look forward to the solitude she has come to expect.