This is the story of Humphrey Clark and Ailsa Kelman, who spent a summer together as children in Ornemouth, a town by the gray North Sea. As they journey back to Ornemouth to receive honorary degrees from a new university thereHumphrey on the train, Ailsa flyingthey take stock of their lives over the past thirty years, their careers, and their shared personal entanglements. Humphrey is a successful marine biologist, happiest under water, but now retired; Ailsa, scholar and feminist, is celebrated for her pioneering studies of gender and for her gift for lucid and dramatic exposition. The memories of their lives unfold as Margaret Drabble exquisitely details the social life in England in the second half of the last century.
The greater amazement is that The Sea Lady, despite all its cumbersome digressions and interjections, achieves a clear, convincing, transcendent moment at the end. It s possible, upon closing the book, both to wonder what Virginia Woolf would have made of the eukaryotic microbe and how Margaret Drabble managed to pull a touch of magic out of such a prosaic old hat.