Bent Out Of Shape

TITLE: THE GATES OF IVORY

AUTHOR: MARGARET DRABBLE

PUBLISHER: VIKING; 464 PAGES; $22

THE BOTTOM LINE: A final installment in a fictional trilogy on the way we live now.

THIS NOVEL, MARGARET DRABble's 12th, concludes an ambitious project that the author began with The Radiant Way (1987) and continued in A Natural Curiosity (1989). Essentially, Drabble has been trying to counter the solipsistic bent of so much contemporary fiction, that wan parade of heroes and heroines talking to themselves -- usually about themselves -- and deaf to anything beyond the echoes of self-consciousness. Novels, particularly Victorian triple-deckers, once made room for...

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