<B>Drabble's voyage of discovery</B> If Candida Wilton's husband Andrew hadn't become romantically involved with the mother of a student who drowned herself, Candida would never have left bucolic Suffolk. Even after her divorce, many were surprised by this bold move to central London.

Rest assured that an accomplished writer and veteran Londoner like Margaret Drabble knows what to do with Candida once she settles there. <B>The Seven Sisters</B> opens with Candida's diary, three years into her new life. In late middle-age, this former wife of a headmaster buys a London flat in a neighborhood where she knows no one, hoping only that something exciting will happen.

Readers will delight in Candida's matter-of-fact voice. "Nothing much happens to me now, nor ever will again," she admits. "But that should not prevent me from trying to write about it." In a voice that is pitch-perfect, Candida writes about her health club, the new center of her social life. She also describes her now-defunct class to study Virgil, the few women she can count as her friends, and her three grown daughters, to whom she is not close. Her passive ladylike character comes through in every word, as does Drabble's fine sense of humor.

Candida's life is a series of cautious steps that show how hard it is for an innocent to transform herself into the risk-taker she would like to be. Her name announces her a distant cousin to Voltaire's Candide, though her adventures seem tame by comparison.

About halfway through the novel, Drabble moves from diary form to third-person. Something good has finally happened to Candida, and the pace picks up. An unexpected windfall makes it possible for her to go with friends new and old to Italy, to retrace Aeneas' ancient journey. The second part of the book turns into a voyage of discovery for these suddenly younger seven sisters.

When point of view changes again, and again, what started out as a book without surprises now has them. But does Candida really change? Readers will have to decide for themselves. <I>Anne Morris writes from Austin, Texas.</I>

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