She Wrote About the Family Babysitter A working class female turned gambler, Molly Mabley was an inspiration for the author Margaret Drabble Read more
She Wrote About the Family Babysitter by Margaret Drabble was set in a blue-collar area of Stratford-upon-Avon. The tale of Molly Mabley’s life as a suburban babysitter in the late 20th century is narrated by her middle daughter, Marian, as she prepares for school, worries about her mother’s forthcoming funeral and tries to establish herself as a proper member of the working class.
At every turn Mabley either raises the reader’s hopes of a fairy-tale ending or tugs them with tales of the young people who behave badly – people like the child prostitute Guinevere, Molly herself and that irrepressible Boggs who caused so much trouble in the Mabley household. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. We have sympathy for Molly Mabley’s plight, being the battered wife of a wandering drunk, whose son is an apprentice drinker and whose husband does little to stop the abuse. But we also know that Mabley herself is a woman trapped in a system that shames and wastes her and that her dream of escaping the servitude she is trapped in is usually thwarted – the more vicious the higher up the ladder. A compelling story of courage and resistance, it’s worth revisiting to see how far Mabley goes to try to escape the social constraints and the responsibility to provide for those she loves. In what may be one of Margaret Drabble’s best-ever novels, her major lesson is that although you can’t be alone you should try to learn to let people get on with their lives without fear and without regard for personal appearance. It’s also worth remembering that sometimes you just have to give somebody a wild rocket. Sometimes it’s better to give people a rocket than a handbasket.
• Chris Atkinson’s Tracey points the way