In the olden days, when people complained about something called the ‘Hampstead novel’, they often meant the novels of Margaret Drabble, who had the temerity to live in Hampstead during the 1960s and 1970s. I am too young to remember the exact problem with the Hampstead novel because I only arrived in time for the backlash; it was something along the lines of chattering-class types going on about things that didn’t really matter except to other guilty posh lefties. This was before they were rebranded as champagne socialists. In those ancient times, A S Byatt was best known for being Margaret Drabble’s sister and serious novelists still thought of themselves as social commentators.
By the time I had attained book-buying age, Drabble’s clever, witty, hyper-observant novels had rather fallen out of fashion. They seemed to carry a whiff of swinging London, miniskirts, optimism, white plastic boots and everything else that was swept away in the 1980s. But she was only writing about what