'Piecemeal the body dies,’ wrote D H Lawrence in ‘The Ship of Death’, ‘and the timid soul/has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises.’ Lawrence was dying prematurely from tuberculosis, but he could equally have been describing the decay and diminution of old age. Margaret Drabble has borrowed the title and some of the themes of Lawrence’s poem for her new novel, The Dark Flood Rises, in which she explores the physical and psychological realities of growing old.
Her principal spokeswoman, in these musings on ageing, death and last things, is Francesca Stubbs, one of Drabble’s characteristically stubborn heroines. A widow in her seventies, Fran works for a charitable trust concerned with improving living arrangements for elderly people. This requires her to drive up and down