With market analysts predicting that another London real estate bubble is about to burst, I turned to Margaret Drabble’s The Ice Age for a sardonic representation of the 1970s property crash in the UK and the people responsible for it. Drabble is excellent in her depiction of Anthony Keating, a Liberal Arts graduate who has turned his back on the traditional left-liberal culture of his milieu in order to go in for the new, exciting world of real estate, or property development, as he calls it. Inspired by the maverick entrepreneur Len Wincobank, Anthony gets caught up in ever more grandiose plans for real estate development in a market which seems to offer endless possibilities for getting rich.
The collapse of the property market leaves Anthony saddled with millions of pounds worth of unsalable property. As he recovers from a heart attack in his Yorkshire country house, he ponders the meaning of life and wonders what the future will hold in the recession-hit Britain of the 1970s.
Not everybody in Britain on that night in November was alone, incapacitated or in jail. Nevertheless, over the country depression lay like fog, which was just about all that was missing to lower spirits even further, and there was even a little of that in East Anglia. All over the nation, families who had listened to the news looked at one another and said ‘Goodness me’ or ‘Whatever next’ or ‘I give up’ or ‘Well, fuck that’, before embarking on an evening’s viewing of color television, or a large hot meal, or a trip to the pub, or a choral society evening. All over the country, people blamed other people for all the things that were going wrong – the trades unions, the present government, the miners, the car workers, the seamen, the Arabs, the Irish, their own husbands, their own wives, their own idle good-for-nothing offspring, comprehensive education. Nobody knew whose fault it really was, but most people managed to complain fairly forcefully about somebody: only a few were stunned into honorable silence. Those who had been complaining for the last twenty years about the negligible rise in the cost of living did not of course have the grace to wish they’d saved their breath to cool their porridge, because once a complainer, always a complainer, so those who had complained most when there was nothing to complain about were having a really wonderful time now.
Drabble is pessimistic in her outlook, and her book is dated, as she suggests that however bad things got, they weren’t as bad as they were behind the Iron Curtain. But her book illustrates the onset of a process whose chilling effects are felt today by everyone on the planet.
– Catherine Vigier, Zeteo contributing Writer
Margaret Drabble, The Ice Age, London, Penguin Books, 1978.