Books: Ordinary Signals

THE NEEDLE'S EYE by MARGARET DRABBLE 368 pages. Knopf. $6.95.

After six serious, successful novels, Margaret Drabble has a major reputation in Britain, but she is not nearly so well known in the U.S. Drabble's hallmark is unadorned intelligence. Her books tend to leave one massive impression rather than memories of particular scenes. Though she is a formidable social observer, other writers organize a more effective Dreadful Dinner Party.

While she is also painstaking about domestic detail, Doris Lessing, for instance, sets a better table, and Mary McCarthy is a more telling interior decorator.

What Drabble excels in is something very difficult: the...

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