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1. The Grass Is Singing: A Novel
2. Stories (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
3. The Summer Before the Dark (Vintage
4. The Black Madonna
5. Under My Skin: Volume One of My
6. The Fifth Child
7. Briefing for a Descent Into Hell
8. The Cleft: A Novel
9. Martha Quest: A Novel (Perennial
10. The Golden Notebook: A Novel (P.S.)
11. The Good Terrorist (Vintage International)
12. The Memoirs of a Survivor
13. Shikasta: Re, Colonised Planet
14. African Laughter: Four Visits
15. Mara and Dann: An Adventure
16. The Sirian Experiments
17. African Stories (A Touchstone
18. The Marriages Between Zones Three,
19. The Sun Between Their Feet
20. Doris Lessing (Bloom's Modern

1. The Grass Is Singing: A Novel (P.S.)
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 272 Pages (2008-09-01)
list price: US$13.99 -- used & new: US$5.22
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0061673749
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

Set in Southern Rhodesia under white rule, Doris Lessing's first novel is at once a riveting chronicle of human disintegration, a beautifully understated social critique, and a brilliant depiction of the quiet horror of one woman's struggleagainst a ruthless fate.

Mary Turner is a self-confident, independent young woman who becomes the depressed, frustrated wife of an ineffectual, unsuccessful farmer. Little by little the ennui of years on the farm works its slow poison. Mary's despair progresses until the fateful arrival of Moses, an enigmatic, virile black servant. Locked in anguish, Mary and Moses—master and slave—are trapped in a web of mounting attraction and repulsion, until their psychic tension explodes with devastating consequences.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (23)

5-0 out of 5 stars Complex, powerful, interesting
This was Doris Lessing's first published novel. It has about it a harshness and brilliance, a richness in presenting complexities of character and situation. It also reveals the cruelty of the apartheid system through the inhumane treatment by the heroine of the laborers on her and her husband's farm. The story is primarily of a frustrated couple who cannot make a real livelihood despite their hardwork on their farm. In one year the husband gives in to the wife and plants the money- making crop , tobacco. But this too does not work out as it turns out to be a drought year.
Lessing is particularly powerful in her creating of setting and landscape and how these shape the character's lives. This book comes across as a powerful indictment of Apartheid but even more as a study of very difficult suffering characters.

4-0 out of 5 stars Great Literature
A great book, really. The power of the language in many points is a fine demonstration of the highest literary language, at the heights of what can be done with language. To anyone who likes to take on language of considerable complexity I would definitely recomend "The Grass Is Singing."

Even those people who are olympic level readers of literature should learn a few new words after getting through this book!

This was Lessings first book, one she spent much time re-writing and editing. As such, some inconsistencies in style are unavoidable. In my opinion the first chapters and the last chapter are the strongest. While certainly strong, some of the chapters aren't as skillfully written as the others.

An often overlooked fact about the novel is that it is hilarious! The first parts of the book are among the funniest in literature that I've read. Lessing makes fun of the people who do indeed exist, who have such weak minds, such an incorrect way of living life that the only mature thing to do is to laugh at them. It is all the funnier that these incredibly weak people own dozens and dozens of slaves, live in a sordid hut. Mary cannot cook anything, liking dogs is even above Mary Turner's level.It seems a true fact of life that many people who are cruel and very mean also happen to have weak minds, no coincidence there.

The book obviously is a lot to do with racism, racism in Rhodesia in the book's era in particular. Lessing succeeds in throwing light on psychological causes of such racism.

Also wonderful in this book is the writing about nature. Indeed, there mustn't be much literary describing scenery and nature that does a better job than this.

The last chapter indeed is not a funny one, and that doesn't matter as it succeeds in its darkness. I was reminded of the last chapter of "Women in Love." The final chapter is a great example of literary writing at its most powerful, most honed, most affecting.

5-0 out of 5 stars the Grass is Singing
Outstanding!So well written, sensitive, romantic, and tragic. Wonderful book for a book club.

5-0 out of 5 stars A favorite
One of my favorite novels.The mood and images remain with me although it has been some time since I read the book.Bleak and desperate, it envelopes the reader in the tragedies of the lives of its characters.

5-0 out of 5 stars A must read to understand South Africa
Doris Lessing's first novel will pull you into a dry, dusty landscape where people are separated by color and class.Rarely is character development so deeply explored.The background of this book gives a fundamental understanding to past difficulties in South Africa. ... Read more

2. Stories (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
by Doris Lessing
Hardcover: 696 Pages (2008-09-02)
list price: US$26.00 -- used & new: US$15.98
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0307269884
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

This wide-ranging collection of the stories by the renowned Nobel Laureate—spanning more than two decades of her astonishing career—highlights her singular gifts for portraying the complex lives of men and women in a modern, often alienating world.

Included are seminal stories like “To Room Nineteen,” in which a woman reacts against the oppression of her banal marriage with dreadful results; “One off the Short List,” which traces the surprising conclusion to a seduction gone awry; “The Habit of Loving,” in which a lonely older man who takes a vivacious, young wife witnesses an unexpected reversal of intimacy. Here are two classic novellas as well: The Temptation of Jack Orkney and The Other Woman, which exemplify Lessing’s grasp of the most essential human psychology. Rich and various in mood and background—the settings range across England and France—these stories powerfully convey the uncompromising insight, intelligence, and vision of one of the most ardently admired writers of our time. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

4-0 out of 5 stars Subtle observations
It is difficult to review a collection of 35 disparate stories, ranging from a few pages to short novellas of up to some 70 pages and covering a multitude of subjects and many different social settings.Except for one or two which are in surrealistic form, they almost all make compelling reading.There is an introduction by Margaret Drabble which traces some of the main themes and the influences on Doris Lessing, and I can only follow her example in my own way.

Many of the stories deal with the complicated and often tormented relationships between men and women (recalling the battle of the sexes, as also seen in The Golden Notebooks) and with what they expect of each other, but do not get.The poignancy when, as in three of the stories, the (middle class) people involved are `in a good marriage', `sensible', `rational', and self-analytical.Several times the note is struck that for a woman the all-absorbing task of running a home for husband and children is a kind of slavery.Hardly any of the stories are happy;many, indeed, are tragic.The most haunting of them work towards an almost unbearably inevitable end.Doris Lessing is always compassionate, and occasionally funny, too.Some stories are about lonely people - some of whom are unhappy in their loneliness, while others - women - see it as a sign of their proud independence.

The setting is often recognizably and evocatively in the decade or so after the end of the Second World War, mostly in London; but in some of them English people (with the restricted travel allowance of the post-war years, which create their own problems and tensions) are shown on holidays abroad.Some stories have a strong social or political background.The last and longest one, in particular, is, among many other things, a sad and complex meditation of an elderly socialist about the nature of protest movements, perennially repeating itself in each generation, and perennially creating a gulf between the generations.

Three pieces in this collection are not really stories at all, but observantly descriptive pieces about London's Regent's Park.

All, so the introduction tells us, were originallypublished between 1957 and 1972, but we are not given the date of each story's first publication.

It is a handsome edition and a pleasure to handle.

5-0 out of 5 stars "Stories" by Doris Lessing
This book, a large and almost unending collection of her short fiction, is probably the best introduction to the enormous ouevre of Doris Lessing, an incredibly sophisticated and intellectual writer. In it are all her trademarks; a perception of the highs and lows of relationships in rare acuity, private thoughts of joy and sorrow, the awkward social transitions between the classes, the mysteries of attraction. Some stories are deep character studies, some heralds of a bleak future, some mundane descriptions of a park or an ordinary day, some just a few pages of a brief glance among strangers and all that it could entail. Here is a stifled housewife, a desperate homeless person, grey London, a Europe still haunted by the Holocaust. A mere review is difficult in which to encompass all the places and feelings Lessing so masterfully put in this collection. Suffice it to say that it is a must for any Lessing and short fiction fan, as she is just as adept here as in any of her novels. This is a rare collection worth many re-readings.

4-0 out of 5 stars Excellent
When I say that Doris Lessing is one of the top published fiction writers still living, you will know to a) take it to the bank, yet b) also go out and get a copy of her stories- preferably her 1980 collection from Vintage Books, simply called Stories, wherein thirty-five of her best tales are housed. Lessing, who was born Doris May Taylor, of British parents, in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, 1919, and grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), is simply one of the best short story writers of the last century. Having recently read the overrated oeuvres of William Trevor and Frank O'Connor, it was a relief to avail myself of the comparatively low-keyed works of Lessing. Of course, she deals with many of the same topics that Trevor, especially (as far more of his tales than O'Connor's are set in England than Ireland), deals with: the bourgeoisie's sloth, the ins and outs of romance, yet she does so in far more daring and experimental forms, even as she does so. And her ear for the upper crust's patois is far more realistic and variegated than Trevor's. Consequently, her tales are more lively and engaging with the characters within. Another area she excels in is with the little details. She understands that `realism' consists not merely of a boring recitation of the diurnal, but a poetic focus on aspects of the real that have been overlooked by most people. Overall, I'd have liked a bit more diversity in her tales, but she has more than most writers, and this helps with the overall quality of her work. Not all her stories succeed, but her body of work is far more `experimental' than that of PoMo poseurs such as David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, or Rick Moody. Still, even as her stories stretch form, they all share a very clinical and calculating eye. Lessing really digs underneath the expected, in the best ways of such psychologically based writers as Richard Ford, while also exploring emotion in convincing character portraits that are reminiscent of the best of Russell Banks and Reynolds Price....The final sort of tales are the experiments, such as Not A Very Nice Story, which heavily plays with form and points of view as it details a pair of intertwined marriages, which ends on a very despairing note. This truly postmodern tale (as opposed to the slop that usually has that label applied to it) opens in this provocative and well written way:

This story is difficult to tell. Where to put the emphasis? Whose perspective to use? For to tell it from the point of view of the lovers (but that was certainly not their word for themselves- from the viewpoint, then, of the guilty couple) is as if a life were to be described through the eyes of some person who scarcely appeared in it; as if a cousin from Canada had visited, let's say, a farmer in Cornwall half a dozen unimportant times, and then wrote as if these meetings had been the history of the farm and the family. Or it is as if a stretch of years were to be understood in terms of the extra day in Leap Year.
Report On The Threatened City is Lessing's only science fiction tale in the collection, and has a very Twilight Zone like appeal. England Versus England and Two Potters are two minor, and mediocre tales that also fall into this last category.Through all her tales, though, Lessing never relents from the basic existential crisis that is at the heart of most literary stories of quality: who am I and how did I get here (to where the story starts)?, or its subtle variants She is very much a literary writer, in the best sense of that term, and, at least in her short fiction, I've found none of the specious and frequent comparisons made between her and Virginia Woolf to hold up. Woolf was a horrendous short fictionist (and her longer fiction was not much better, if at all), while Lessing is a premier talent and accomplished wordsmith. Her best tales read almost like emotionally charged psychological chess matches between antagonists, or a protagonist and the cosmos, and she has a good ear for real conversational tones, inflections, and offhanded poesy. She is a short story writer of a cut or three above even more acclaimed landsmen like William Trevor, yet has never quite gotten her due. Read her anyway, and help reverse the tide of deliteracy wrought by the vandals of literature: the bad writers, agents, editors, publishers, and critics, who try to snow you from what your gut tells you, but you just cannot finger. Doris Lessing is a terrific writer- stick that in your Cliffs Notes, and think about it!

5-0 out of 5 stars some of the best short stories ever written
Whether describing an actress in love with an angry married man, the simple pleasures of a public park or the London Blitz, this collection of fine, moving pieces always rings true. Both heartbreaking and in places, disturbing, nonetheless, still rewarding reading. Lessing is more famous for the Golden Notebook, but these showcase her broad range and near flawless gift for making characters come to life. The story with the homeless old woman for example will stay with you forever. ... Read more

3. The Summer Before the Dark (Vintage International)
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 288 Pages (2009-07-14)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$9.27
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0307390624
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Nobel laureate Doris Lessing's classic novel of the pivotal summer in one woman's life is a brilliant excursion into the terrifying gulf between youth and old age.

As the summer begins, Kate Brown—attractive, intelligent, forty-five, happily married, with a house in the London suburbs and three grown children—has no reason to expect that anything will change. But by summer's end the woman she was—living behind a protective camouflage of feminine charm and caring—no longer exists. The Summer Before the Dark takes us along on Kate's journey: from London to Turkey to Spain, from husband to lover to madness, on the road to a frightening new independence and a confrontation with herself that lets her finally and truly come of age. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (10)

4-0 out of 5 stars The Summer Before the Dark
Our lives are governed by social conventions that are almost inescapable if we wish to have meaningful relationships with the people around us: marriage, language, law, family, class, money. Indeed, to the social contract theorist, our very civilization depends on the mutual adoption of these laws. But what happens when these conventions are rejected? What happens when someone dares to be different, to be a Raskolnikov and take an axe to convention's head? In the political sphere, we get revolution, terrorism, even civil war; in the aesthetic sphere, we get stylistic innovation, new genres (and thus the creation of new conventions), quite often classic art. Doris Lessing's 1973 novel, The Summer Before the Dark, is the story of such conventions, but on a more personal level - in the domestic sphere, the familial province of upper middle-class London. It is the story of Kate Brown and her transcendence of these conditions, of her awareness of how she has allowed them to define her, and of her burgeoning social subversion in a time and a place where simply to question was itself unconventional.

Kate is haunted by a vaporous family of four children and a consultant neurosurgeon husband. So sketchy and minor are these characters that if they were needed for anything more than they give to the novel, they could not bear the load. They seem to exist for only two reasons: to define Kate by their presence (as the negative space about the portrait of a lady) and thus their absence, and to bestow upon her her roles for the novel: mothers, by definition, must have children, as wives must husbands. Though unemployed, her days are filled with the duties of mother and housekeeper: cooking cleaning listening consoling nursing; as often diplomatic as they are simply domestic.

The novel, having thus constructed her milieu, then flings Kate's family to separate parts of the world as they all take their own summer holiday, leaving Kate alone. Instead of sitting idly at home, Kate, a fluent Lusophone, takes a translating job with Global Foods, a company "whose decisions are of importance to people hauling sacks of coffee on a hillside thousands of miles away." Promoted to administrative duties (a position that draws on her domestic organizational skills), Kate ends up in conservative Istanbul, where she meets a wandering Jeffrey, a young man with whom she decides to have an affair - something her (relatively) open marriage allows. They travel to Spain where Spanish social conventions envelope them like a flexible grammar, as is visible in this finely wrought passage:

"...there are conventions in love, and one is that this particular sub-classification - older woman, younger man - should be desperate and romantic. Or at least tenderly painful. Perhaps - so these unwritten but tyrannical values of the emotional code suggest - a passionate anguish can be the only justification for this relationship, which is socially so sterile. Could it be tolerated at all in this form, which was almost casual, positively humorous - as if these two were laughing at themselves? They were indifferent to each other? Surely not! For their propriety was due to much more than good manners - so decided these experts, whose eyes were underlined with the experiences of a dozen summers, enabling them to flick a glance over such a couple just once, taking in details of class, sexual temperature, money."

But Jeffrey soon tires of the "red-hot coast during the months of bacchanalia" and, having been there before, promises to show Kate the 'real,' central Spain. Despite falling ill, they continue through oppressive heat until Jeffrey's weakness forces them to stop and seek medical aid. Kate leaves him in that small Spanish village and returns to London, taking a hotel room because the Brown family decided to let their home out rather than leave it vacant for some few months. It becomes clear upon arriving in London that she, too, has taken ill. She descends into a feverish delirium that burns away the last vestiges of Mrs. Michael Brown and, once weathered, allows her a clear view of herself, naked under the clear, unfiltered light of no particular social lens. Here we have reached the middle of the novel, the fulcrum of its story, and its best scene.

In an interview given just before the publication of The Summer Before the Dark with Joyce Carol Oates, Lessing said that she has always been interested in women who define themselves by their marriage, as Kate does. It is a small step to make of this particular something more universal: a person's defining themselves by any social convention. It is the roles we play that give us a sense of self; it is what we see reflected back from the person with whom we are speaking that reveals to us our own shape. In the different spheres of society we know (or come to learn) what is expected of us. In the economic sphere, we sing the buyer-seller duet; in marriage, husband-wife; in family, parent-child; in art performer-spectator. In and out of these bubbles of interaction we move as between rooms without doors: effortlessly. It is with gentle subtlety that Lessing reveals her conditional life to Kate, as, gradually, more and more light is revealed to one whose eyes have been closed for a long time.

It is in language that Kate's quest for meaning begins - quite literally. From her role as translator for Global Food to her time in Spain, a nation with a language so close to Portuguese that for Kate to hear it was like trying to look through "windows paned with sheets of quartz instead of glass." The seeming evanescence and comedy of meaning is felt not only by Kate, but by her neighbour and friend, the adulterous Mary Finchley.

"'She said', said Kate, 'that Eileen's problems would be easily supported and solved in a well-structured family unit like ours.' Mary suddenly let out a snort of laughter. 'A unit,' said Kate. 'Yes, a unit she said we were. Not only that, a nuclear unit.' They laughed. They began to roar, to peal, to yell with laughter, Mary rolling on her bed, Kate in her chair. Other occasions come to mind, each bringing forth its crop of irresistible words. At each new one, they rolled and yelled afresh. They were deliberately searching for the words that could release the laughter, and soon quite ordinary words were doing this, not the jargon like parent-and-child confrontation, syndrome, stress situation, but even "sound," "ordered," "healthy," and so on. And then they were shrieking at "family," and "home" and "mother" and "father.""

Later we are told that it was "Kate's guilt...that ended [the] occasion...", as though the words themselves are sacrosanct, as though to make light of them is to endanger the "foundations" of one's "identity," to shake one's trusses. Kate is becoming aware that words are representations of things and not the things themselves and her guilty reaction is generated probably as much by anxiety for the wider implication of this as it is by the alcohol she is drinking: if a thing is represented by words and pictures and an agreed meaning, what represents Kate? The realization she comes to is the same that not a few married woman come to: she is defined by her marriage, by her role as "wife," by her role as "mother." It is this idea that expands to create the theme of Lessing's novel and is wonderfully and ironically conveyed (as, with a theme such as this, it must be) in the central and best scene: when Kate goes to the theater. Feeling that an evening out is just the thing to accelerate her convalescence, Kate has the hotel reception book a ticket for a play. ("She did not care which play. She wanted to see people dressed up in personalities not their own, that was all.")

Here, at this play about a woman whose marriage suffers from the stifling ennui of convention, and whom, after a brief interlude of adultery, returns to her bucolic, bathetic life - here, Kate goes to pieces. "So very Russian," an audience member remarks - and indeed, Kate's eccentric behavior seems at times (fittingly for a play by Turgenev) to channel that of Dostoyevsky's Fyodor Karamazov or even his Underground narrator. She curses the actors in one scene and praises them in the next; her behavior, attracting attention for her vocalized thoughts, might be likened to Karamazov's acting the fool both because it is expected of him and because he believes himself to be the better man. However, despite her febrile ramblings, Kate is lucid enough to move beyond the conditioned response of sympathy, the response she gave when she first saw the play four years ago:

"She was thinking that there must be something wrong with the way she was seeing things. For although she was so close in to the stage, she seemed a very long way off; and she kept trying to shake herself into a different kind of attention, or participation, for she could remember her usual mood at the theatre, and knew that her present condition was far from that. It really did seem as if she looked at the creatures on the stage through a telescope, so extraordinary and distant did they seem from her in their distance from reality. Yet the last time she had sat here she had said of Natalia Petrovna, that's me. She had thought, What person, anywhere in the world, would not recognise her at once?"

And later:

"...and very soon everyone stood up to applaud and applaud, in the way we use in our theatre, as if the need of the actors to be approved, the need of the watchers to approve, feeds an action...which is a comment quite separate and apart from anything that has happened on stage, nothing to do with whether the events shown are ugly, beautiful, admirable or whatnot, but is more of a ritual confirmation of self-approval on the part of the audience and the actors for going to the theatre and for acting in it. A fantastic ritual. A fantastic business altogether."

It is a paradox of fiction, in particular of literary realism, that in its realistic depiction of human emotions and behavior we achieve respite from the barrage of the staged modern life. In his story "Zetland: By a Character Witness," Saul Bellow has his eponymous protagonist recommend Moby-Dick to his wife:

"...it [Moby-Dick] takes you out of the universe of mental projections or insulating fictions of ordinary social practice or psychological habit. It gives you elemental liberty. What really frees you from these insulating social and psychological fictions is the other fiction, of art. There really is no human life without this poetry."

In The Summer Before the Dark, Lessing has given us a portrait of a lady who becomes aware of her social conditioning but chooses to return to the life she lived before her enlightenment, suggesting not that it is the rejection and subversion of social convention that is the first step towards identity and self-knowledge, but simply the awareness of these civil codes and the refusal to sit so comfortably in their mold.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at [...]. © David J. Single, 2010 [[...].]

3-0 out of 5 stars Social commentary
As I read this book, I could not escape the fact that every scene was rife with commentary on the social conditions for middle and upper middle class women in the late '60s and early '70s.I was reminded of how very happy I am that that I was not a "Leave it to Beaver" house-wife.It also reminded me that we take many things for granted (like choices about education and careers and motherhood) that were fraught with angst in the very recent past.The characters in the book revealed the varying difficulties caused by the many rigid limitations that women faced before the sexual revolution took off a few years later.

However, I hesitate to call this a literary novel - because each character is little more than a mouthpiece for Ms. Lessing's opinions about many issues.The characters do not have a life of their own and are not especially real or compelling or deep.The plot is odd and not especially interesting.While, it is not hard to read, it pretty easy to walk away from.(I didn't catch myself staying up late to read just a few more pages....)

I am glad that I got a taste of this Nobel Prize winning author's writing, but I doubt that I will read more of her books.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Highly Creative and an Interesting Novel
As I post this review, I have read three of Lessing's novels from three different time periods in her career. This is one of her later works and it contains the strong feminine perspectives, dialogues, analysis, and commentary that is associated with Lessing. One could say that these are the trademark writing styles of Lessing. It is an interesting novel about a married woman who is having a mid-life crisis.

Doris Lessing (1919 - ) is the 2007 Nobel Prize winner in literature. She has a score of novels and many other works. Her complex novel The Golden Notebook (1957), her first novel The Grass is Singing (1950), and The Summer Before The Dark (1973) are considered to be her representative works. I read those three.

Having read The Grass is Singing (1950), her very first novel, I found that the present novel is far more complex, but not as complex as The Golden Notebook. The Golden Notebook is a story within a story and it is 600 pages long. The present novel is more conventional and shorter, just 240 pages. Also, the Golden Notebook has a score of characters while the present book has one strong protagonist.

Without giving away the plot, Lessing describes the personality of the female protagonist - a middle aged married woman - who is living in Britain and is still relatively young at 45 but has found herself left with an inattentive husband and grown up children.

How does she deal with that situation and what is the outcome? That is what the novel is about. The "Dark" in Summer Before the Dark, refers to the period of turmoil (physical and mental) that she undergoes. It is about her new career and her new friends, both male and female. Lessing gives mostly female dialogue and perspectives. In fact, the female characters are far more interesting than the males. In short, it is a book of self discovery of a middle aged woman, and her coming to terms with her life.

This is not a conventional novel. Lessing uses various literary techniques including writing from the perspective of the woman having an illness. This makes the book more powerful and engaging. Gertrude Stein used repetition to create a mood of chaos. Here the technique has the same effect - but not exactly similar. Lessing brings us into the world of the woman's slightly delusional state. We see the world through the eyes of the sick woman. Some readers might find that confusing, but others will see it as a powerful literary technique.

I liked the book and would recommend it. It is a short quick read that takes an evening to read. It contains most of the feminine arguments found in some of her longer works, but the present work is far easier read than The Golden Notebok (far, far easier) and it is a well written novel. If I had to pick one book that is easy to read and contains her arguments, this is not a bad choice.

3-0 out of 5 stars Some good scenes and good insights, but not the best novel
I agree with "devoted reader"--I was struck by
the insights of this book, but felt that the characters
were subservient to them.

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent early Lessing novel
Now that Lessing has been awarded the Nobel Prize, some readers unfamiliar with her work may wonder what to read.This novel is a very good place to start.In fact, contrary to some of the other reviewers, I think The Grass Is Singing: A Novel (Perennial Classics) is easily one of her best books.It's also probably one of her most bleak. The Fifth Child as well as The Good Terrorist are also very good. ... Read more

4. The Black Madonna
by Doris May Lessing
 Paperback: 80 Pages (1992-02-06)
-- used & new: US$53.33
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0586091114
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars African Genesis...
Robert Ardrey commenced his book, with the subject title: "Not in innocence, and not in Asia, was mankind born." Written in the early `60's, his thesis was that humankind's origins were in Africa. The last days of the European colonial power's overt presence in Africa were setting; in the future less direct means of control would be required. "Uhuru", "freedom," and all, that would be the promise of African nationalists. Much has been written about the black-white relationship in Africa, none perhaps more incisively, and with a greater moral compass, than Doris Lessing, who was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007, most deservedly so.

Lessing was born in Iran, lived through the colonial and apartheid periods in southern Africa, and for her opposition to both nuclear arms and apartheid, was banned for many years from Rhodesia and South Africa. I've read several other African writers, and I think she is the best at describing, to paraphrase Gunnar Myrdal, "The African Dilemma." Her magnum opus is The Golden Notebook: A Novel (P.S.)I haven't read it, know I should, but have been deterred by a friend who was reading it over 30 years ago. He said: "I've been depressed for most of the month, finally decided to stop reading The Golden Notebook, and now feel much better." Hum, few `recommendations' have so discouraged me from picking up a book.

I found "The Black Madonna" a wonderful antidote for that discouragement; a medicine that was put in my eye to counteract the poison from a spitting snake, a tribal herb, as was depicted in the last story, "No Witchcraft for Sale." This book is a collection of seven short stories, all rather intense. It is a tribute to Lessing's craft that she can convey so much in so few words. Only about half the stories address the black-white relationship. They range from the artistic work of a recently released Italian POW; the killing of a cuckold; the transformation of a white woman's consciousness coupled with the dispossession of a tribe's land; and the aforementioned story where a white boy's eyes are saved thanks to the skills of a black "medicine man."The other three stories were set in Africa, but their subject matter did involved the natural death of an unassuming aunt who looked after others; the isolation of living on the veld, and the impact on all, men, women, and the children; and then there was the sheer exuberance of being 15, and awaking to enjoy the African dawn, and then being confronted with the reality of life and death in the bush.

A superlative 5-star read.
... Read more

5. Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 (My Autobiography, To1949, Vol 11949)
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 448 Pages (1995-10-11)
list price: US$15.95 -- used & new: US$2.47
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0060926643
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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"I was born with skins too few. Or they were scrubbed off me by...robust and efficient hands."

The experiences absorbed through these "skins too few" are evoked in this memoir of Doris Lessing's childhood and youth as the daughter of a British colonial family in Persia and Southern Rhodesia Honestly and with overwhelming immediacy, Lessing maps the growth of her consciousness, her sexuality, and her politics, offering a rare opportunity to get under her skin and discover the forces that made her one of the most distinguished writers of our time. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (10)

5-0 out of 5 stars Under My Skin by Doris Lessing
After Lessing won her Nobel, I began reading her work, as well as whatever interviews and videos were available. I loved the straightforward way she told her stories, I liked the intelligence she put into them, and I appreciated the scope and breadth of her oeuvre. When I learned that she had a two-volume autobiography published I pick it up immediately. It is as frank and enjoyable as you would ever hope it to be. It was fascinating for me to read the story of a proper young girl who would later grow up to be a world-renowned author and Nobel laureate. Lessing always tells her story with honesty and candor, sparing no details and taking no victims. I haven't started on her second volume yet, but after the first one I feel like I know her quite well, and have infinite respect for her as an artist. She writes with a non-nonsense intellectualism that stands out in world literature. Read her.

3-0 out of 5 stars Makes me want to read more of her work.
This was actually my first experience with Doris Lessing, tho I've heard of her for years. Her picture of the So. African experience was quite revealing but I got a little tired of the analysis of those who joined the communist movement. It seems that though she worked as an activist, she never really
'bought' the doctrine, to her credit. But she seems to have a need to over analyse the motives. It seems to me that most of the people were just trying to improve the social ills of the time and were taken in by the communist rhetoric. The writing was good enough to keep me reading even though I wasn't too happy with the her bohemian attitude; abandoning her children, taking successive lovers....I respect her intellect but not her morals.
I am not inclined to look for the second installment.

5-0 out of 5 stars Not a Sucker
This is a hard-hitting piece of autobiography. Lessing looks at her parents and their world of colonial mastery from the point of view of her younger, increasingly disenchanted self. Lessing was gathering steam in those years, to emerge as one of the prominent novelists of the post-war era. In this, the first of a two-volume autobiography, she is beginning to grow critical of her parents, colonialism, white supremacy, men - her husband in particular - and just beginning to flirt for a short time with the great experiment in group-think of the period known as Communism. She falls for it for a time, but not for long. It will take her a while, but she finally emerges along with George Orwell as the most articulate critic of this mindless, toxic form of self-imposed mental slavery. She writes of her fellow-traveling, communist-sympathizing friends as silly people, which strikes me as as good a way to think of them as any. Lessing provides, along with her political autobiography, a lovely evocation of Africa, the landscape and people, about whom she wrote as a young novelist and to whom she has continued to refer throughout her long and continuing career as a writer.

5-0 out of 5 stars Not just an autobiography
Doris Lessing has led such an interesting life, and writing a diary all the time. She writes of a time completely foreign to me, living a history of the changes in Southern Afica. I find her autobiography a great read, and prefer it to her novels. Interesting and moving, and explains much about her!

5-0 out of 5 stars masterful autobiography
Under My Skin

Doris Lessing's autobiography traces her political and emotional development from her earliest childhood memories to her growing, overwhelming, disenchantment with provincial (as she saw it) small town life. "Small town" life for her was pre-WWII Salisbury in the (then) British colony of Southern Rhodesia. Salisbury was a complacent capital city of 10,000 white settlers in a country the size of Spain.
Lessing is quick to debunk the myth of the prosperous, close knit, white farming community - poverty was a real fact of life both for blacks and whites. Her most vivid childhood memories are of escaping from the family home and off into the limitless veld. The emptiness of the veld parallels her youthful emptiness and her growing convictions that the communist party represents a real hope for the world.
The book, a masterpiece of autobiographical writing, is brutally honest in parts and wilfully obscure in others. Some of her emotional mistakes are hardly glanced at (leaving her first two children, for example) but others (the joys of being part of a fast, hard drinking sect, embracing radical politics) are wonderfully engaging. Reading her thoughts you could be forgiven for thinking that the "party" was the only opposition to conservative white rule in Salisbury. This is what makes her book so appealing, her supreme skill as a novelist allowing us to enter the heady world of rushed meetings, leftist newspaper deliveries, drinks on the sports club verandah and back in time to find the cook still waiting to prepare supper. Naturally it couldn't last and Lessing is far too intelligent to think that that is all there is to life. The book ends in 1949 as she arrives in London, apprehensive and hopeful in the capital city of her parents.
This is more than a `who-did-what' from a long time ago, times and dates are (probably deliberately) rarely mentioned. It is the personalities and the ideas - most of all the ideas - sliding from youthful enthusiasm to mature realism which fuse the book with life and vitality. `Under My Skin', published in 1992, is that rare thing, a candid autobiography written by a consummate novelist with skills to spare. Doris Lessing is a national treasure. ... Read more

6. The Fifth Child
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 144 Pages (1989-05-14)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$7.19
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Asin: 0679721827
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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A self-satisfied couple intent on raising a happy family is shocked by the birth of an abnormal and brutal fifth child.Amazon.com Review
The married couple in this novel pull off a remarkableachievement: They purchase a three-story house with oodles ofbedrooms, and, on a middle-class income, in the '70s, fill it to thebrim with happy children and visiting relatives. Their holidaygatherings are sumptuous celebrations of life and togetherness. Andthen the fifth child arrives. He's just a child--he's notsupernatural. But is he really human? This is an elegantly writtentale that the New York Times called "a horror story ofmaternity and the nightmare of social collapse . . . a moral fable ofthe genre that includes Mary Shelley's Frankenstein andGeorge Orwell's 1984." ... Read more

Customer Reviews (53)

4-0 out of 5 stars Keeps the reader engaged
About: A couple has four normal children...the fifth one isn't so normal.

Pros: Short, quick read. Creepy.

Cons. Ending was kind of a let down.

Grade: B+

1-0 out of 5 stars a bad novel
This book started well. The prose, the dialogs, the story are all good and well done, until the fifth child appeared.

The author sometimes describe the fifth child, Ben, as a Neanderthal or caveman. And sometimes describes Ben as a child fits in well in a group of street bums. It is very confusing, which seemed to be author's intention. But the author obviously confused ordinary street bums with caveman, which are quite different.

What's worse is that a lot of times, I don't know the characterization of Ben is Harriet's (mother's) perspective, or the author's perspective, which would seem too autocratic because the characterization is not based on any professional diagnosis. In fact, a "professional" in the book, a female psychiatrist, gave a "normal" diagnosis.

The second half of the book looks more like a badly written investigative report on a troubled child than a novel. A lot of the paragraphs are so dry, so over-simplified, I had the feeling the author really didn't know what to say, and did a bad job in covering up her ignorance.

Lessing didn't even bother to clarify who Ben is, and yet she freely casted him as "caveman" half of the times, is very uncaring, inhumane, in and by itself.

The strangest thing is the book covers the time span of 20 plus years, and yet is not separated into chapters.

I have the feeling that through this book, Lessing was launching a full frontal attack on the traditional family values.

5-0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking and unforgettable
The best horror fiction deals with the things that really scare us. Zombies, vampires, werewolves, and the like have their place. But what of the fear that comes from deep inside: questions like, what if your own child was a monster? Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing explores this kind of horror in her novel The Fifth Child, which I first learned of in The Book of Lists: Horror in a "horror novels that don't call themselves horror novels" sort of list.

David and Harriet Lovatt seem to have been made for each other. Their meeting was the proverbial "across a crowded room," and even their ideas on children match exactly: they want many. Even though their first four children (Luke, Helen, Jane, and Paul) arrive somewhat more quickly than anticipated, everything develops easily despite protestations from relatives that their family is growing too fast.

Everything changes, however, with the arrival of the fifth child. The pregnancy is more difficult, the birth more an ordeal, and the new baby, called Ben, is very different from their other children -- in ways they all find deeply unsettling and often shocking.

In addition to offering a highly gripping and suspenseful read, with The Fifth Child author Doris Lessing investigates the nature of family and the societal definition of what it means to be "human." Ben is referred to as an alien, a monster, a freak, an atavism from a race that is perhaps better suited to living underground, and various other "inhuman" monikers.

Lessing presents Ben's myriad quirks and misbehaviors with a tone that replicates that of a horror novel. This is quite appropriate given that the other family members view him with extreme trepidation that develops into fear for their lives with a family pet turns up dead.

This all results in those outside the immediate family becoming increasingly distant. Lessing skillfully illustrates this isolation through Christmas attendance, with successively fewer visitors each passing year. Eventually, Luke and Helen (away at boarding school) choose to spend the holiday with their grandparents, effectively keeping them away from home all year long.

Ben appears to be unknowable, and this is exactly the kind of thing that inspires terror in most people. At first, the family try to deal with Ben in the only way they know how. This may seem cruel at first, but the relief is palpable when their decision is reached. But Harriet then makes a pivotal decision that essentially destroys her family.

The Fifth Child does end on a note of hope, however slight. (The Nobel committee recognized this when they awarded her in 2007, writing, "From collapse and chaos emerge the elementary qualities that allow Lessing to retain hope in humanity.")

The novel was well enough received by readers to inspire a sequel, Ben in the World. But The Fifth Child on its own is a marvel: a thought-provoking, unforgettable story that makes the reader ask what he or she would do in the circumstances -- and then deal with the answer that comes.

5-0 out of 5 stars Am now a Lessing fan
This book was recommended to me based on my love of several of Margaret Atwood novels, and it did not disappoint. Lessing writes in a frank, unassuming manner, making this a fast read, one I wished wasn't over so soon. The protagonist, Harriet, is instantly likable and sympathetic, especially after she makes a choice no mother should ever have to make--the life of one child or the quality of her other family members' lives. It is a sad and frightening tale of average, good people who are living an unwarranted arduous existence. I am an instant Lessing fan and will seek out more of her work immediately.

5-0 out of 5 stars Mother's Little Hero.
In the relaxed mood of England in the late 1960s, Harriet and David Lovatt, face an unpleasant change of fortune when their fifth child is born.
It's a boy and they call him Ben. The publisher calls him" monstrous in appearance, insatiable hungry, abnormally strong, demanding, brutal".
Voila, just a normal kid I should say.

After Ben is born it strikes me that after some time the father apparently has no interest at all in the education of his fifth child. I've been told that a father is less preoccupied by his children than the mother. 'Less preoccupied' is an understatement in this case. 'Totally uninterested' would be a better phrase. It's almost as if he wants to distance himself completely, foreseeing a family disaster.

Later on Ben wants to lead his own life and he leaves his parents. But one day his mother is watching TV and she sees a coverage of a rather brutal demonstration. She recognizes Ben among the demonstrators and she makes the decision to go searching for her son.
But who is this kid really? Is he a juvenile delinquent? Is he autistic? I don't believe that he says two understandable words in the whole novel.

I believe that this book is one of the most enigmatic novels written by Doris Lessing. Is it a crime novel? Is it a symbolic novel about the times we are living in? Maybe one of the main questions is: how far goes the love of a mother for her child? ... Read more

7. Briefing for a Descent Into Hell (Vintage International)
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 320 Pages (2009-07-14)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$9.20
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0307390616
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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In this ambitious novel of madness and release, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Doris Lessing imagines the fantastical "inner-space" life of an amnesiac.

Charles Watkins, a Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, has suffered a breakdown, confined to a mental hospital as his friends and doctors attempt to bring him back to reality. But Watkins has embarked on a tremendous pyschological adventure that takes him from a spinning raft in the Atlantic to a ruined stone city on a tropical island to an outer-space journey through singing planets. As he travels in his mind through memory and the farther reaches of imagination, his doctors try to subdue him with ever more powerful drugs in a competition for his soul. In this provocative novel, Lessing takes us on a harrowing voyage into the rarely glimpsed territory of the inner mind. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (12)

4-0 out of 5 stars Grossly underrated
I have to say I'm shocked at how poorly-reviewed this book is. Indeed it can be at times a difficult read, but this is one of the best novels I've read - precisely because it has nothing to do (almost) with the regular run of emotional situations and interpersonal upheavals that characterize most fiction.

The book follows a man who, by the standards of our consensual world, has lost his marbles, and is admitted to a psych ward to be 'cured.' On this side of things we read the reports of the psychiatrists who try to cure him with drugs, electroshock, etc. On the other side, we're treated to an incredibly detailed and richly illustrated exposition of the man's inner world - what might be interpreted as dreams or hallucinations.

To interpret the book this way, though, is to completely miss the point. This book has nothing to do with 'mental illness' per se, nor with hallucinations. It's apparent (to me anyway) that 'Hell' is not the man's hallucinatory detachment from the world, but this world itself. It's hard to believe so many people have missed this. I think the most profitable way of reading the book is as an account of the protagnoist's adventures in what Sufi/Islamic literature refers to as the 'Imaginal Realm.' Lessing was deeply influenced by Sufism (e.g., through her relationship with Idries Shah), and Sufism contains many aspects of Plotinus's 'Emanationist' philosophy. This book is a direct and obvious reflection of those themes - a soul cast down into the 'evil' material realms, and trying to return to the higher spheres of existence. I think any attempt to describe such a journey, or such a 'place' (if that's the right word), must be an enormous challenge - and I think Lessing has by and large succeeded.

I sympathize with those who don't 'get it' or find it dull, but I think this is just a matter of a lack of background knowledge or personal experience of some kind with these things. Anyone who explores their own dreams or practices some form of meditation can probably recognize in Lessing a peer, someone who has obviously 'been there' and is reporting back in the form of fiction.While some may view the book's ending as 'happy' it is obvious to me that it is meant rather as a tragedy, the success of our mediocre worldview in crushing the imagination and flights of spirit.

I take off one star not because of the book's difficulty, but merely because some of these scenes are not done very well (e.g., the "Briefing" itself where the various 'Planets' convene I thought was terrible).

All in all though, for the right person at least, this is an incredible book, and I should really go back and reread it. Highly recommended for anyone who has any interest in their own 'inner space.'

5-0 out of 5 stars Breakdown is Breakthrough
The previous reviews are revealing -- this is clearly a love-it-or-loathe-it book! I'm definitely in the first category, though I won't disparage those who couldn't stand it. It's simply not for every taste, and unlikely to ever find mass appeal.

But for those who are captivated by visionary literature, you'll find a dazzling, disorienting horn of plenty within these pages. The plot, such as it it, follows the inner-space journey of amnesiac Charles Watkins, adrift on the seas of madness, then set ashore on the terra incognita of the Unconscious. A reading of R. D. Laing's "The Politics of Experience" wouldn't be out of place while reading this novel, as it deals with the same approach to madness & consciousness: the notion that a breakdown may indeed lead to a conceptual breakthrough, that madness may well be the only sane response to a mad world.

Yes, it can be difficult going, especially at first. But if you stick with it, you may find that it pulls you in & enfolds you in its shattering vision. If you're unsure of whether to proceed, dip into a few pages at random & see if it intrigues you; if so, you'll probably find yourself on an unsettling, but possibly quite illuminating, journey of the soul. Something of a niche item, to be sure -- but what a niche!

3-0 out of 5 stars A view on mental illness
I was reading this book when I heard Doris Lessing had been awarded the Nobel prize in literature. As a science fiction fan I think Lessing was an excellent choice: she's both an interesting author and her bibliography includes science fiction - including some elements in this book.

Briefing for a Descent is about a man, who is found wandering around in London. He's taken into a psych ward for treatment and it soon turns out he has lost his memory. He sleeps a lot, dreaming intense and interesting dreams. Eventually he wakes up and the hospital staff find out his identity - then begins the task of making the man and the identity meet.

The book starts slowly and I'm fairly sure many people have started, but not finished. My recommendation is to skim through the early parts about floating in oceans - the book gets a bit more solid about halfway through and is actually quite interesting. Worth reading, definitely, if not the best one I've read from Lessing. (Review based on the Finnish translation.)

4-0 out of 5 stars "Time is the whole point..."
"Sometimes when you read a book or story, the words are dead, you struggle to end it or put it down, your attention is distracted. Another time, with exactly the same book or story, it is full of meaning, every sentence or phrase or even word seems to vibrate with messages and ideas, reading is like being pumped full of adrenalin." (p.155) You don't say, Doris. The title alone should be enough to tell you that Lessing's 1971 novel isn't going to be an easy read, and the first 100 pages are a very hard slog indeed. But it's worth the effort. This self-declared "inner-space fiction" narrates the gradual "recovery" of amnesiac Charles Watkins, a Cambridge Classics Professor who is hospitalized after being found wandering along the London Embankment. The narrative alternates between Watkins' inner world and the efforts of his doctors and friends to revive him. Lessing has been accused of trivializing mental illness here, but the charge carries no weight. She isn't attempting to articulate the experience of amnesia, nor of delusional psychosis. Her aim is philosophical. The further we go into the novel, the more we come to realise that Watkins may not, in fact, be ill at all - rather, the human condition may be his "illness" and his breakdown is actually a kind of waking up. What emerges is a view of the world in which identity is conditional, all matter is a unified system, and "time is the whole point". The "Hell" of the title may not be mental illness - it may be life as it is lived in the supposedly real world. Of course, Lessing can give no definitive answer to such philosophical questions, but her exploration is powerful and increasingly sharp. Once we leave Watkins' inner world and he is asked to write about his experiences, Lessing's narrative elevates to a level of startling lucidity. The stories Watkins writes about his apparent wartime experience in Yugoslavia, and what he can see from the window of his Cambridge study, are both beautiful and profound. They make the philosophical point far better than any academic essay ever could. And what is the point? It's a particular understanding of reality. As Lessing's epigraphs - one from a fourteenth-century Sufi mystic, the other from a twentieth-century marine biologist - neatly show, we tend to think of religion and science as heading in precisely opposite directions, but they are in fact inching ever closer together. No, the conclusion is not that God actually exists as some old man sitting up there in heaven, but rather that the ancients' intuitive understanding of the nature of reality is startlingly similar to what quantum physics is telling us about space-time today. Much of human suffering may stem from an inability to look at our world and ourselves in the right way. Readers engaged by this kind of thinking might also enjoy "Valis" by Philip K. Dick.

1-0 out of 5 stars Waste of time
People who enjoy this book seem to characterize it as an original work of sci-fi/fantasy and a thought-provoking exploration of insanity, which interests me very much.However, I found this book to be neither original nor an adequate account of someone's "descent" into or recovery from madness.The premise is intriguing enough as the novel begins, gradually revealing the story of an amnesiac/schizophrenic patient being admitted to a psych ward, who turns out to be a professor at Cambridge.Immediately, the reader is thrown into 50 pages or so of stream of conciousness ramblings that were quite frankly difficult to trudge through.This put a bad taste in my mouth, possibly tainting the rest of the book for me.The remainder really wasn't terribly interesting; I found Lessing's writing style to be excruciatingly boring and lacking any sort of insight.Other reviews of this book tend to fall to the extremes of loving it or hating it; I guess that means I hated it.So maybe I just didn't "get" it...personally, I don't think there was anything to "get". ... Read more

8. The Cleft: A Novel
by Doris Lessing
Hardcover: 272 Pages (2008-02-01)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$1.67
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0060834870
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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From Doris Lessing, "one of the most important writers of the past hundred years" (Times of London), comes a brilliant, darkly provocative alternative history of humankind’s beginnings.

In the last years of his life, a Roman senator embarks on one final epic endeavor, a retelling of the history of human creation. The story he relates is the little-known saga of the Clefts, an ancient community of women with no knowledge of nor need for men. Childbirth was controlled through the cycles of the moon, and only female offspring were born—until the unanticipated event that jeopardized the harmony of their close-knit society: the strange, unheralded birth of a boy.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (23)

1-0 out of 5 stars The Cleft
I'm not quite sure how many words I want to waste in a review of this utter trash. Doris Lessing clearly is considered one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, so why she chose to hide her skills in such a complete waste of time is beyond me. Both the title and the synopsis on the back cover imply that the book would have feminist (under)tones. Fine. However, Lessing seemed to combine this feminist style with those of Herodotus, Homer, and William Golding. The result was less than appealing.

While reading this "novel" (a loosely-applied term here), I felt like there was supposed to be all this great symbolism. The act of the Clefts "separating" themselves from the Monsters. The fact that it was the giant eagles (and not some other mythical or prehistoric creature) that befriended the Monsters and later protected the mixed communities of Clefts and Monsters. The evolution of what still are the most basic human urges and fights between the sexes. But quite frankly, these instances were really more laughable than anything else and the story is as deep as a kiddie pool.

In addition, structurally the novel was completely disorganized. First, it seemed to be a general history based on oral tradition. Fine. Then, we learn about the narrator, and the parallels between his experiences and those of the Monsters and Clefts. Weird, but still fine. Then we have these "heroes" of Maire, Horsa (with his Odyssey meets Lord of the Flies sub-plot), and Maronna, with whom I can only guess the reader was supposed to sympathize. And to top it off, there are multiple randomly-spaced freshman philosophy major rants like the following: "If you have had authority all your life, because of your nature, something you never knew you had, and then you lose it, then it is hard even to ask the right questions."

I prefer the concepts of getting teeth pulled without novocaine and sticking needles in my eye over those of reading this book again or recommending it to others. Even people who enjoy reading "bad literature for the sake of its 'bad'-ness" are wasting their time and money. Avoid this book like the plague.

2-0 out of 5 stars Origin myths
I have now had my kindle for more than 6 months, and The Cleft was one of the first roughly contemporary texts on which I took a roll of the dice, and I have to agree with the critical reviews Amazon lists. The Cleft is a bad idea in the hands of a great author, and the juxtapostion between the Imperial Roman life we can all reach back to against this proto-human society isn't enough. I sense, at times, that Lessing wants to radicalize feminist anger to the point of being repulsive, but she never quite overcomes her own limitations through dealing with the creation of pre-civilized humanity. Sample her science fiction, her South African stories, but take a pass on this, because nothing actually happens that makes this worth the effort.

1-0 out of 5 stars Dull and offensive
I was reading another one star review and laughed out loud-that person got to page 163 and just quit.I made it to page 187, but then I stopped- and I NEVER stop reading a book before I'm finished.While trying to wade through this, I alternated between being bored and being angry.The gender stereotypes in this book are alarming- women are lazy, nagging, and fat; men are adventurous but can't be bothered to keep toddlers alive.Little girls don't become vivacious until they are fathered by men . . . seemingly women are passive in toto unless there is some male element within them.The book also suggests that being raped to death is less offensive than castration.I was shocked the entire time that this book had been written by a woman- seriously, DO NOT READ THIS.

4-0 out of 5 stars Layers of myth
I often wait a day or two before writing a review. I find that my appreciation of a work often changes on reflection, sometimes magnifying the experience, sometimes diminishing it. In the case of Doris Lessing's The Cleft, a little distance has considerably enhanced the initial impression, which was less than favourable.

The Cleft is quite a short novel. It just seems long. The language isn't difficult, likewise neither are setting or plot. Not that there's much of either.

We begin with a society that's entirely female and where procreation just happens. When "monsters" appear, babies with ugly extra bits on the front, they are either killed or mutilated. Killing involves leaving the tiny bundles of flesh on a rock for eagles to take. But the cunning birds aren't always hungry.

A community of squirts- grown-up monsters - begins to thrive and the women find they have to interact. New activities are mutually invented and suddenly all is change. A new race or perhaps merely a new society develops via proto-parents, develops at least twice, in fact. Journeys are made. Promised lands reveal promise. New orders establish themselves.

Meanwhile, we realise that this creation myth is being related by a Roman gentleman who has his own domestic battle of the sexes. At first sight this extra layer of narrative seems redundant. Eventually an elemental force binds the myth to the narrator's present. The link is tenuous and as a plot device, its impact fails. It does, however, conceptually link the narrator with the related myth.

After all, Romans were themselves created, they believed, out of a myth where a pair of lads were nurtured by an animal. The military tradition (equals male) by which Rome prospered was founded on the social control of Sparta, not the demos of Athens. Sparta was probably the ultimate macho male society, where the old were revered and women were chattel, though they could own property. Doris Lessing at one point refers to Spartan youth being separated from their families at the age of seven to hone military and combat skills via camaraderie. Such an exile the monsters of The Cleft invent for themselves.

Galling at first reading and later informative were the repeated gender stereotypes that dominate Doris Lessing's narrative. The repeated use of these bludgeoning concepts had more than an air of artifice. Looking back, I now see that this actually enhanced what emerged as the book's overarching idea, which is our need for myth and the necessity of reducing it to the level of populist fairy tale.

The eagles who nurtured the monsters play god. The way we organise our society demands certain role models, while ceremony, often barbaric, such as genital mutilation, allies us to ideals and ideas we prefer not to question. In the end we have to explain elemental forces beyond our control and myth is our refuge.

Stick with The Cleft. It's a tortuous journey, but it is worth it in the end, an end whose only solace may only be found in myth.

4-0 out of 5 stars enjoyable
the story line is well described by other reviewers. this is a simple book, a simple story, and there is enough thereto make it intriguing and generally enjoyable. it presents an interesting idea, and perspective. not a great literary work but a good yarn told by a master writer. a story attempting to get at the ongoing struggles between men and women, and while not greatly successful, successful enough to be worth reading. i would definitely recommend this book. ... Read more

9. Martha Quest: A Novel (Perennial Classics)
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 336 Pages (2001-02-01)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$6.49
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 006095969X
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Intelligent, sensitive, and fiercely passionate, Martha Quest is a young woman living on a farm in Africa, feeling her way through the torments of adolescence and early womanhood.She is a romantic idealistic in revolt against the puritan snobbery of her parents, trying to live to the full with every nerve, emotion, and instinct laid bare to experience.For her, this is a time of solitary reading daydreams, dancing -- and the first disturbing encounters with sex.The first of Doris Lessing's timeless Children of Violence novels, Martha Quest is an endearing masterpiece.

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Customer Reviews (15)

4-0 out of 5 stars Youth is painful
I was quite taken with Martha Quest.Her experiences as a teen and young woman, the irritation she felt against her mother in particular, felt very real.I can understand going through your teenage years feeling alienated, trying to make sense of the world around you only to find unsatisfactory answers to all your questions.The vast generational gap that existed between Martha and her mother fueled Martha's rebel streak.When you are Martha's age, it is normal to feel lost, and not to grasp that you're in the driver's seat of your own life.Martha does very little to effect change in her life, other than move to town and start a job.But when it came to personal relationships, she was like a boat at sea, totally left to the mercy of the waves and the wind.We are so foolish in our young years...

I was a bit disappointed with the ending, but now I understand this is the first book in a series.I look forward to reading more about Martha, and hopefully Joss Cohen.

4-0 out of 5 stars Martha Quest by Doris Lessing
Martha Quest is the first novel in Doris Lessing's massive Children of Violence series, which cumulatively consists of five books and 2,100+ pages. Because of the breadth of the series as a whole, the first book here acts as a general introduction, and can be frustrating to read simply because it isn't a complete story in and of itself. We get to know Ms Quest, where she comes from and what she wants out of life, but little more. The heavily autobiographical protagonist leaves her childhood farm, moves into a busier city, lolls away at a job, goes to nighttime party after party, dates a few different men, gets caught up what an assorted group of friends, becomes more perceptive at the different social classes around her, and marries a somewhat mysterious man at the end. This is all in pretty general brushstrokes, and a reader may not find much interesting here, and Quest not a particularly appealing character. Trust me, stick with it and you will find Ms Quest to be as interesting and fully-formed as anyone you have ever met. This is a lukewarm gateway to an incredibly impressive series of novels.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not Compelling
The style of writing was compelling with many wonderfully descriptive paragraphs, but the protagonist wasn't all that interesting a character. In fact, none of the characters are fully fleshed-out. Lessing seems a bit detached from her characters in spite of the fact that this book parallels her own life.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Classic
Absolutely fantastically great.I was lucky enough to have this novel assigned to me in university in the 70s, and it changed my life. I stayed in bed for a couple of days, unable to put it down, rocked to my core. A wonderful book about a conscious young woman growing up in colonial Africa, and choosing her own path.Racism, sexuality, coming of age, motherhood, women's issues, urban culture ... Lessing introduces these in a fresh, exciting, intelligent way. Of course I read all the others in the series, and many other Lessing books.When she got the Nobel Prize last year I stood up and cheered!In today's climate it's even more timely and on-key.

5-0 out of 5 stars a portrait of a young woman's soul
This book mirrors a girl's search of an identidy in a country where people from different nationalities try to live with a minimum of conflict. The story starts between the two world wars and reflects the urgency to live.
Doris Lessing is one of the more lucid writers of our times e and makes Martha Quest so real that she could be a friem or a neighbour of ours.
A book that must be read!

... Read more

10. The Golden Notebook: A Novel (P.S.)
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 688 Pages (2008-10-01)
list price: US$18.99 -- used & new: US$7.51
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0061582484
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Product Description

Anna is a writer, author of one very successful novel, who now keeps four notebooks. In one, with a black cover, she reviews the African experience of her earlier years. In a red one she records her political life, her disillusionment with communism. In a yellow one she writes a novel in which the heroine relives part of her own experience. And in a blue one she keeps a personal diary. Finally, in love with an American writer and threatened with insanity, Anna resolves to bring the threads of all four books together in a golden notebook.

Doris Lessing's best-known and most influential novel, The Golden Notebook retains its extraordinary power and relevance decades after its initial publication.

Amazon.com Review
Much to its author's chagrin, The Golden Notebook instantly became astaple of the feminist movement when it was published in 1962. DorisLessing's novel deconstructs the life of Anna Wulf, a sometime-Communist and a deeply leftist writer living in postwar London with her small daughter. Anna is battling writer's block, and, it often seems, the damaging chaos of life itself. The elements that made the book remarkablewhen it first appeared--extremely candid sexual and psychologicaldescriptions of its characters and a fractured, postmodern structure--areno longer shocking. Nevertheless, The Golden Notebook has retained agreat deal of power, chiefly due to its often brutal honesty and the sheer variation and sweep of its prose.

This largely autobiographical work comprises Anna's four notebooks: "a black notebook which is to do with Anna Wulf the writer; a red notebook concerned with politics; a yellow notebook, in which I make stories out of my experience; and a blue notebook which tries to be a diary." In a brilliant act of verisimilitude, Lessing alternates between thesenotebooks instead of presenting each one whole, also weaving in a novel called Free Women, which views Anna's life from the omniscient narrator's point of view. As the novel draws to a close, Anna, in the midst of a breakdown, abandons her dependence on compartmentalization and writes the single golden notebook of the title.

In tracking Anna's psychological movements--her recollections of her years in Africa, her relationship with her best friend, Molly, her travails with men, her disillusionment with the Party, the tidal pull of motherhood--Lessing pinpoints the pulse of a generation of women who were waiting to see what their postwar hopes would bring them. What arrived was unprecedented freedom, but with that freedom came unprecedented confusion. Lessing herself said in a 1994 interview: "I say fiction is better than telling the truth. Because the point about life is that it's a mess, isn't it? It hasn't got any shape except for you're born and you die."

The Golden Notebook suffers from certainweaknesses, among them giving rather simplistic, overblown illustrations tothe phrase "a good man is hard to find" in the form of an endless parade of weak, selfish men. But it still has the capacity to fill emotional voids with the great rushes of feeling it details. Perhaps this is because it embodies one of Anna's own revelations: "I've been forced to acknowledge that the flashes of genuine art are all out of deep, suddenly stark, undisguiseable private emotion. Even in translation there is no mistaking these lightning flashes of genuine personal feeling." It seems that Lessing, like Anna when she decides to abandon her notebooks for the single, golden one, attempted to put all of herself in one book.--Melanie Rehak ... Read more

Customer Reviews (39)

2-0 out of 5 stars Just...not good.
This is Doris Lessing's best known novel, to the point that it won her the Nobel Prize for Literature. Unfortunately...I just don't see it. Don't get it. I trudged through this book. Despite a 40+ hour work week and being in the throes of planning a wedding, I can still plow through 300-ish pages of a good book in a few days...but the 655 pages of The Golden Notebook took me over a month and a half to read.

Admittedly, Ms. Lessing's descriptions are amazing. They're just enough, never too much. She is obviously a fine writer. And I did enjoy reading/learning more about life in Africa during/after WWII, and life as a Communist. But the main character, Anna Wulf, is completely insufferable. She is miserable, she cares for no one but herself, and the rest of the characters are about as dreary. As other reviewers on Amazon noted, I found myself not once caring if a character lived or died. And by that I mean--I didn't like or care for any of them enough to bother with them living, but I also didn't despise any of them enough to wish they would just pass on. For all that, I simply can't rate this novel higher than 2/5 stars.

1-0 out of 5 stars The Boring Notebook
My sentiments are exactly those of "I just can't do it" and "Life is just too short," and at 71, my life is shorter than many. I made it to page 128, but it just seemed to be the same old, same old, page after dreary page. All the characters seemed much of a muchness.

Furthermore, I'm just not interested in Marxism, feminism, promiscuous sex, and indiscriminate drinking. I even skipped ahead a hundred pages and then another hundred to see if it got any different. It didn't seem to.

3-0 out of 5 stars Worthy but wordy
This was the first Doris Lessing book I read, and I read it when I was in college, but during one of the vacations. It wasn't required reading.
I did not realize at the time that this was a seminal feminist book, and I have read I think two or three more by the author since. I found it interesting but very definitely wordy. While the heroine is full of good intentions she seemed to me to be really more focussed on herself than anybody else, and the long descriptions of her affair were tedious.
In the end I felt that what she said could have been said far more concisely without losing any of its impact. Now Doris Lessing politics are not my politics and as she does tend to preach to the choir, there was a disconnect.

5-0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Writing
The conflicts and struggles of being a Communist, a woman, and a writer dominate Doris Lessing's semi-autobiographical novel "The Golden Notebook" because the writer herself is a woman Communist writer.The conceit at the heart of this 635-page novel --four notebooks written from four different perspectives focusing on different material, all coalescing into one golden notebook -- is gimmicky and annoying, and the book would have fared well under a precise eye and brutal hand (Lessing wrote the book in less than a year).But the writing compensates for the absence of editing, for the writing is splendidly variegated, as diverse and as beautiful, as pregnant and as prolific as a yellow meadow blending into a thick forest rising into hilly grassland.

The novel is a meditative journey into the decadent and disillusioned world of English intellectuals in the 1950s and sixties.The genesis of the protagonist's fascination with Communism can be found at a colony of fellow travelers in Africa in the 1940s.These spirited witty youth spend World War II using their spirit and wit to play an intellectually dishonest game of trying to convince themselves and others the validity of Communist theory, and as they turn into adults they depend on Communism to dampen and control the raging ego that so dominates all creative manic depressives.The impossible contradiction for these intellectuals is to balance their desire for the valium and ritalin that is Communism for their need for the bread and water that is writing.

Being a writer in a time of television, trying to maintain the sanctimonity of the word against the omnipresence of the image, is another impossible contradiction.The protagonist Anna Wulf manages a minor best-seller at an early age, having exploited her African experience into a quasi-memoir and is now reluctantly being seduced and exploited by television executives.Anna knows better, but wants also to feel wanted.She once had a lover Michael who could never love her, and she knows many couples whose relationships are fruitless chasms.

These three impossible contradictions -- of being a believer in something so absurd as Communism, of being a writer in a time of the image, of being a woman in love with a man -- all come crystalized together in the nexus that is Saul Green.Anna Wulf is hopelessly in love with this American writer who's in England to escape McCarthyism.It's doubtful that Saul Green actually believes in Communism, and it's even more doubtful that Anna is in love with Saul, who she knows cheats on him because she reads his diary, and in her violating his privacy she also violates her identity as a writer and lets her instincts as a woman come first.The two wallow in their self-anger and self-hate, and in the classic co-dependency mode they fight, make love, fight again, and then make love again.

The internal failings of the individual -- the self-denial and self-hate, the narcissism and self-righteousness -- is the novel's dominant motif.Seeing these adults fight and claw at each other incessantly, Anna's best friend's son decides to shoot himself, and Anna's daughter dreams for the stifling ordinariness of boarding school.These adults eventually tire themselves out -- they marry into conformity or retire into conventionality.

The storm will eventually fade, and everything will have been for naught:that is the tragedy and hope of "The Golden Notebook."

3-0 out of 5 stars mixed
The unique structure of the book in 4 notebooks was what attracted me as well as the fact that the subject matters looked interesting and complex.But after 400 pages the fragmented structure became more of an obstacle and distraction than refreshing, and I think this book would have been much better if it had been half of its length as I think there is too much repetition in the book.I agree with the author that this is not just about feminism, it is about the era of the 60's experienced by a woman with complex and active emotional, intellectual and political spirit. But I didn't find the protagonist, Anna Wulf personally relatable to me, and didn't feel that the golden notebook very intergrating either.In the end, my goal became just to finish the book which I did. ... Read more

11. The Good Terrorist (Vintage International)
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 384 Pages (2008-03-25)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$8.49
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0307389960
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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The Good Terrorist follows Alice Mellings, a woman who transforms her home into a headquarters for a group of radicals who plan to join the IRA. As Alice struggles to bridge her ideology and her bourgeois upbringing, her companions encounter unexpected challenges in their quest to incite social change against complacency and capitalism. With a nuanced sense of the intersections between the personal and the political, Nobel laureate Doris Lessing creates in The Good Terrorist a compelling portrait of domesticity and rebellion. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (13)

2-0 out of 5 stars Underwhelming
You would have thought that Ms Lessing had purged Marx from her system with "The Golden Notebook", but it appears that she has been suffering a 20 year long post-Stalinist hangover. What, exactly, is the point of this novel? Is it an act of penance on Lessing's part? This is a vituperative, inflammatory book that has none of the subtlety of "The Golden Notebook", and it is not difficult to see why- "The Good Terrorist" affords Lessing, contrite ex-communard, an opportunity to pass judgment upon the contagion that infected her wayward generation. History, of course, has not innoculated us from this virus, and today's disaffected youth are not immune to its conscience-ravaging effects.

One of the reasons why "The Golden Notebook" is such an affecting book is because it is steeped in guilt and complicity- the book is a plaintive lamentation for 'the god that failed'. This doesn't mean that she doesn't try to absolve herself- everybody was blinded, and the ideological alternative, chauvinistic McCarthyism/neo-imperialism, could hardly claim moral superiority. Acutely aware that she could not assume a higher moral ground, Lessing's novel constitutes one of the greatest novels of conscience in literary history, one that is as anguished and intimate as Dostoevsky.

The kids in "The Good Terrorist" have no such excuse, being a pack of indolent louts, compulsive liars and irredeemable psychopaths. In short, a motley bunch of malcontents who should really get a job already. Having worn her hair shirt for thirty odd years, Lessing can now install herself as magistrate, an oracle spinning cautionary fables for concerned mommies. There's no more need for self-flagellation, Lessing is now free to sermonize. Look at this new breed of hellspawn! We're all headed toward catastrophe unless the idle youth are corralled into their pens. The tone throughout "The Good Terrorist" is a disquietingly despondent one, with Alice's crestfallen mother amplifying Anna Wulf- we were betrayed, the halcyon delusions of the '60s were a big sham. Nostalgia be damned, we need to stare cold reality (read: neo-liberalism) in the eye.

If you don't have extensive background knowledge on Thatcherism, you would get the impression that the brats at number 43 don't have much reason to gripe. Lessing exhibits little resistance to such an interpretation, as she offers hardly any political/economic critique of her own, focussing instead on the tics and neuroses of these bored delinquents. This is not to say that her analyses are off the mark- her diagnosis of the monomaniacal, hyper-rational terrorist mind is undoubtedly keen- but Lessing's own myopia blinds her to the possibilities of a meaningful neo-Marxism.

Having pointed out the inhumanity inscribed at the core of Marxist-Leninist-Stalinism, a lesson all penitent Reds had to learn through the gulags, Lessing proceeds to suggest that any attempt to resuscitate Marx's embalmed corpse would necessarily lead to bombs. The dream has passed its expiry date, Ms Lessing says repeatedly, radical politics is for lunatics. Ergo Bert's quote of Lenin on state terror, wrenched out of historical context (which begs the question, how does Lessing feel about the Red Terror and Trotsky's "Terrorism And Communism"?). Ditto Lessing's equation of Althusserian anti-humanism with the merciless suicide-bomber Faye (perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but Lessing's continual insistence that Marxism is a humanism throughout "The Golden Notebook" strikes me as an unwillingness to engage with Althusser's revaluation of Das Kapital).

Lessing's inhibitions about communism are perfectly understandable. She is entirely entitled to her jaundice- some of the most moving passages in "The Golden Notebook" involve her disillusionment about awakening from a world-historical dream. Granted, Lessing probably needed to write this book. It's her aspirin for the long morning after, an act of ritual cleansing. Yet I find it very difficult to recommend this novel, redolent as it is of the most odious moralism.All this being said, the book does have its redeeming qualities: it can be rather funny, and it *must* be said that many aspiring 'revolutionaries' on university campuses come dangerously close to lessing's caricatures (a good number of peta activists I know come to mind). If there is one lesson that "The Good Terrorist" teaches us, it is that there is always something rather ridiculous in overzealous political commitment, that po-faced militants should never take themselves too seriously, lest they veer into the realm of parody. The membrane that separates radicalism and fascism is thin indeed. One just wishes that Lessing, usually such a suggestive, generous writer, had handled the subject with greater subtlety and intelligence.

Instead of this, I recommend the following:
La Chinoise, Masculin Feminin, Tout va Bien (films by J-L Godard)
Man's Fate (Andre Malraux)
For Marx (Louis Althusser)

5-0 out of 5 stars The Good Observer

Alice and her boyfriend Jasper join a squat of left wing activists intent on overthrowing the establishment and forging links with the IRA and Soviet communists.
This is a wonderfully observed and paced novel. Alice is the 36 year old daughter of a well to do middle class family who has never held a job and is constantly seething about the wrongs of society. She constantly deludes herself-Jasper is homosexual but she sticks with him despite his obvious dislike and dependancy on her; she works to create a home with human comforts in the squat,she uses her parents for money;her and her fellow revolutionaries (all middle class) just aereate absract ideologies ,too self righteous and angry with their own lives to think out any consequences of what they do or stand for.
Lessing observes group dynamics perfectly. Some of the squat do all the work,others laze about, others dominate with their views-a society like any other no matter what the hot air rhetoric is!
This book perhaps has more meaning now than when it was written (1985) as communism has since collapsed and today only the seriously deluded attach much credability to Marxism. Perhaps the 'islamic' extremism is todays outlet for the left rather than Marx-in the UK its painful to see some left wingers supporting extreme right wing racists on the islamic platform for God alone knows what reasons (Lessing would enjoy the contradictions/hypocricy of these new age 'revolutionaries' no doubt!)There's always got to be some cause to enable what Roth called 'the perpetual protest'!
A great book which I thorughly enjoyed.

5-0 out of 5 stars It Is An Interesting Read, But Not Her Best Novel.
As I post this review, I have read six of Lessing's novels from different time periods in her career. This is one of her later works and it contains only some of the feminine perspectives, dialogues, analysis, and commentary that is associated with Lessing - but not all and toned down drastically from other novels. It is an interesting novel about a 35 year old woman who is a terrorist and a home-maker of sorts. Because of this home-maker twist, she is called "the good terrorist." But, she is a terrorist.

Doris Lessing (1919 - ) is the 2007 Nobel Prize winner in literature. She has a score of novels and many other works. Her complex novel The Golden Notebook (1957), her first novel The Grass is Singing (1950), and The Summer Before The Dark (1973) are considered to be her representative works. I read those three.

The present novel is good. It is not complicated in the fashion of The Golden Notebook. It is closer to being a conventional novel. It has a good set of characters and an interesting plot. Without giving away the plot, Lessing describes the personality of the female protagonist living in Britain who is university educated, but has never worked. She has an uncaring boyfriend. They are squatters taking over abandoned houses. In many ways this is a parody of serious terrorists; but, the book is not all humor.

I liked the book and would recommend it. It is a short quick read that takes two evenings to read. It does not contain the feminine arguments found in some of her longer works, but the present work is far easier read than The Golden Notebok (far, far easier) and it is a well written novel. If I had to pick one book that is easy to read and contains her arguments, this is not a bad choice, but The Grass is Singing is a more innovative work and also easy to read.

3-0 out of 5 stars Sharp appreciations, but poor plot.
Although I was quite disappointed with the story's plot, I found one of the best character composers today and, most importantly, a woman that converts tiny little things of ordinary life ( imperceptible for most of us, most of the time) in events of extraordinary importance, in events that deserve a lot of thinking and reflection.
How can such a writer perform poorly in the most important, central part of any novel (its plot)? Well, I don't have an answer for that dilemma.

2-0 out of 5 stars Not with a bang but a whimper...a spiteful, disappointing book from a great writer
In this book, Lessing has an ax to grind against the kids--so noisy, so dirty, so infuriatingly idealistic about the left politics she herself has abandoned.Naturally those idealistic kids are really thieves, liars, manipulative, clinically crazy, and...terrorists!Lessing is a writer strongly motivated by spite, particularly spite against ideas about which she has become disillusioned.(In fact, she has some very interesting things to say about the functions of spite in parts of the Golden Notebook.)Unlike her disillusioned writing about the left in the Children of Violence cycle and the Golden Notebook, this book contains not one person who is both an ordinary, functional human being and a person who seriously believes that society can be improved--and even her disillusioned former-liberal characters have rolled over to Thatcherism with such feeble excuses about the laziness and pettiness of the youth!Her villains are laughably crazy and manipulative--at least the villainous left wingers in the Golden Notebook were complex enough that you could understand their power.(An awful lot of people who have never done political activism or met a left-wing person read this book and assume that it really depicts the world of activists, because people who don't really care too much about politics assume that those who do are crazy zealots.)Lessing's other, better work shows that world more accurately in both its bright and dark aspects. (On that note, I feel that Lessing has written herself out about the left by the end of the Children of Violence cycle--later, wonderful books like Diary of a Good Neighbor and merely very good books like Mara and Dan deal with new issues.One of the amazing things about Doris Lessing is that where many writers go through one or at most two big themes/phases in their writing careers, she has gone through, oh, four or five.) ... Read more

12. The Memoirs of a Survivor
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 224 Pages (1988-04-12)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$5.64
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0394757599
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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In a beleaguered city where rats and roving gangs terrorize the streets, where government has broken down and meaningless violence holds sway, a woman -- middle-aged and middle-class -- is brought a twelve-year-old girl and told that it is her responsibility to raise the child. This book, which the author has called "an attempt at autobiography," is that woman's journal -- a glimpse of a future only slightly more horrendous than our present, and of the forces that alone can save us from total destruction. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

4-0 out of 5 stars Memoirs is a lesson in incrementalism
What struck me most in the marvelous Lessing short book, Memoirs of a Survivor, is how matter-of-factly we accept horrific changes as long as they happen bit by bit.The absence of emotionality in the story, noted by others, is, I believe, intentional.As conditions worsen, the main character (and her ward) find ways to adapt, but never consider what actions they might take to reverse the societal decline.

This is a story about our inherent passivity, our overweaning trust that someone else will surely take care of things when they go bad.It is also a testament to our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, but in general I feel it is a condemnation of our blindness to perceive and then resist those changes that dismantle and ultimately destroy vibrant societies.

5-0 out of 5 stars Not a Novel: More of a Novella
The writing is good but this is just a short novella.

As I post this review, I have read six of Lessing's novels from different time periods in her career all the way from her first novel in the 1950s to a recent 2003 novel. This present novel is from the middle of her career, written in 1974. As with all of her works, it contains some of the feminine perspectives, dialogues, analysis, and commentary that we associate with Lessing. The present novel is short and the social commentary is toned down drastically from other novels. It is about a person who cares for a young girl who is approximately age 12 to 15, along with the girl's dog. They live through a period of social breakdown.

Doris Lessing (1919 - ) is the 2007 Nobel Prize winner in literature. She has a score of novels and many other works. Her complex novel The Golden Notebook (1957), her first novel The Grass is Singing (1950), and The Summer Before The Dark (1973) are considered to be her representative works. I read those three plus a few more. I have set up a Listmania list on her books.

The present novel is good. It is not complicated in the fashion of The Golden Notebook. It is closer to being a short story. It has a good set of characters and an interesting plot. Without giving away the plot, Lessing describes the personality of the female protagonist living in an urban area that has been subject to a complete social breakdown. She is the narrator in the story. Lessing never tells us the cause of the problem, but the government is essentially gone, there is no electricity or water, and gangs roam the streets. People keep animals to eat and grow their own crops. The story is about the young girl, Emily, who has been left with the older woman. Emily matures and takes up with a local leader. Some might not like the book because it lacks emotion.

I liked the book and would recommend it. It is a short quick read that takes an evenings to read. It does not contain the feminine arguments found in some of her longer works, but the present work is far easier read than The Golden Notebok (far, far easier) and it is a well written novel. If I had to pick one book that is easy to read and contains her arguments, I would recommend The Grass is Singing. It is a more innovative work and also easy to read.

5-0 out of 5 stars Not a Novel: More of a Novella
I like the writing so Lessing deserves 5 stars but this is a short novella, not a novel.

As I post this review, I have read six of Lessing's novels from different time periods in her career all the way from her first novel in the 1950s to a recent 2003 novel. This present novel is from the middle of her career, written in 1974. As with all of her works, it contains some of the feminine perspectives, dialogues, analysis, and commentary that we associate with Lessing. The present novel is short and the social commentary is toned down drastically from other novels. It is about a person who cares for a young girl who is approximately age 12 to 15 in the story and her dog. They live through a period of social breakdown.

Doris Lessing (1919 - ) is the 2007 Nobel Prize winner in literature. She has a score of novels and many other works. Her complex novel The Golden Notebook (1957), her first novel The Grass is Singing (1950), and The Summer Before The Dark (1973) are considered to be her representative works. I read those three plus a few more. I have set up a Listmania list on her books.

The present novel is good. It is not complicated in the fashion of The Golden Notebook. It is closer to being a short story. It has a good set of characters and an interesting plot. Without giving away the plot, Lessing describes the personality of the female protagonist living in an urban area that has been subject to a complete social breakdown. Lessing never tells us the cause, but the government is essentially gone, there is no electricity or water, and gangs roam the streets. People keep animals to eat and grow their own crops. The storing is about the young girl, Emily, who matures and takes up with a local leader.

I liked the book and would recommend it. It is a short quick read that takes an evenings to read. It does not contain the feminine arguments found in some of her longer works, but the present work is far easier read than The Golden Notebok (far, far easier) and it is a well written novel. If I had to pick one book that is easy to read and contains her arguments, this is not a bad choice, but The Grass is Singing is a more innovative work and also easy to read.

2-0 out of 5 stars a post-apocalyptic yawner
Despite the author's accomplished prose style and vivid imagination, this is, in the end, a very boring book about a setting and a theme which should be fascinating: surviving the--or at least an--apocalypse.The problem is that the author remains at such an abstract and intellectual level throughout most of the book.As a result, you don't fully enter into the narrator's world, and you don't really get to know the characters.There is a scene about 30 pages from the end, when some peddlers come selling water in buckets, and there's a fight over the water, when I found myself saying, "Yes--this is exactly the kind of engaging detail that has been missing from most of this story!"The ambiguities of the cat-dog character and the wall-as-conduit-to-alternate-reality do not make up for this fundamental shortcoming.

4-0 out of 5 stars A furturistic novel and spiritual teaching manual
There are several levels to this book, and many obscure threads which are woven together to make a very satisfying, yet provocative and obtuse novel of survival in times of chaos as society falls apart. Some of the mysterieswhich are present in the story ( who really is Emily, who and/or what isthe dog, what is the alternate reality behind the wall, and what are allthe charactors doing at the end when the iron egg crumbles) are woven intoother novels by Lessing, such as the "Four Gated City.""Memoirs of a Survivor" is reported to be partlyautobiographical.

A movie was made in England of "Memoirs"staring Julie Christi around 1985 which was shown briefly in Venice,California.I have not seen it referred to anywhere since. ... Read more

13. Shikasta: Re, Colonised Planet 5 (George Sherban Emissary)
by Doris Lessing
 Paperback: 384 Pages (1981-08-12)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$7.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0394749774
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
A disturbing allegory, centered around a planet called Shikasta, which bears remarkable similarities to Earth. Through time, a higher planet, Canopus, has documented the progress of Shikasta and tried to distract its inhabitants from the evil influence of the planet Shammat, but the Shikastans continue to hurl themselves toward annihilation. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (16)

5-0 out of 5 stars Incredible
Was living in Key West in my 20's and wandered into the library down the street from my house one day. The librarian suggested this book. Little did I know that I was about to read something that would offer so much. Enlightened and deeply compassionate. A shot in the darkness to see the interconnected nature of life.

Great storytelling, epic themes. A must read.

I repurchased it to read again recently and am enjoying it all over.

5-0 out of 5 stars Amazing work
This is one of the few books I felt moved to buy in hard cover and keep on my book shelf.I felt awe-struck at the way we were made to look at our world.Then I read the other books in the series and was very impressed. I also bought a copy of the 2nd in the series Marriage Between Zones 3,4 and 5 and gave it to my minister since I felt she would appreciate it as much as I did.

1-0 out of 5 stars doesn't succeed as fiction, or as a didactic novel
I tried very hard to like this book. Failing that, I tried very hard to appreciate it. I failed at that, too. The only reason I finished it was that I was on a long Greyhound bus trip and had nothing else to read.

A fundamental flaw in the design of this novel is that most of it deals with events from the point of view of George Sherban, who is an alien reincarnated as a cloying human saint. He's not a believable character, and I don't care what happens to him. The magnitude of this poor, dramatically nonviable choice of protagonist becomes especially apparent by contrast when we get some long passages that are instead related by Rachel Sherban. Rachel is not an extremely well realized character, but she's at least a depiction of a human being rather than a plaster icon. The parts told from her point of view were the only ones in which I could suspend my disbelief and pretend that the puppets on the stage were real people.

The main subject of the book is the question of why evil exists in the world. Lessing has a fictional answer, which is that love can't grow naturally on earth. Instead, it has to be imported through a supernatural ray-o-love from someplace where our alien benefactors produce it (a love factory, I assume). I could be interested in a dramatized naturalistic explanation for the origin of evil (Darwinian, psychological, ...) Not being a theist, I'm less interested in stories about the origin of evil that originate in a specific religious tradition such as the Abrahamic religions, but I can see why such a depiction could be interesting to a theist, or to someone immersed in a theistic culture. But I can't imagine why anyone would be interested in Lessing's invented supernatural premise of love-only-available-by-import. And even if I put aside the fact that it's silly, it's the kiss of death in dramatic terms. The human race is reduced to a bunch of heroin addicts lolling around on the living room couch wondering if their alien pushers are ever going to show up with a ziplock full of good lovin'.

An added irritant is that so much of the science-fictional material in the book is laughably dumb. Cities are built in special geometrical patterns so as to tune in to the love-beam's mystic vibes. Old Testament myths are treated as depictions of history, Von Daniken style.

Sometimes when you're reading a didactic novel, you just have to grit your teeth and suffer through its failure as fiction. But that only works if the ideas being presented are interesting enough to make the suffering worthwhile. The ideas in this book are just plain silly.

5-0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and insightful series.
Brilliant and insightful series. You will be thinking about it long after you have finished reading it. Highly recommended.

5-0 out of 5 stars Heavy, Strong, Potentially Life-Changing
Even though technically this is sci-fi, parts of it come across more as mythology, and a lot of it - though couched in fiction - is disturbingly TRUE.This isn't so much a "novel" as a collection of documents pertaining to the science project being undertaken on the planet Shikasta (Earth) by a race of advanced aliens from Canopus.The Canopians are very spiritual, and they are the figures generally interpreted in human myth as gods and angels.Messiahs and prophets throughout history have tended to be agents of Canopus in disguise.At the start of the experiment, the planet is called Rohanda and everything is going fine, but then disaster strikes.The stars go out of alignment and it becomes impossible for any but a tiny amount of spiritual energy known as "SOWF" (Spirit Of We-Feeling) to be sent from Canopus for the sustainment of balance and sanity on Rohanda.An evil planet called Shammat exploits the catasrophe in order to plunder Shikasta, turning it into a violent chaos that will generate the negative energy which Shammat needs to sustain itself.The Rohandan natives start to degenerate and everything goes wrong.The planet is renamed Shikasta, and the middle part of the book chronicles its deterioration, as the natives manifest types of behavior that religion labels "sin."This section amounts to a relentless critique, no, a sorrowful CONDEMNATION of human society from the perspective of a being who is outside the human condition and observing it in near-disbelief.What we take for granted, Johor finds intolerable, unbelievable.Human sins are so succinctly and perfectly described, there is such power in these passages, I felt as if my eyes had been opened.I was alternately excited, dismayed, and terrified with each page.It almost knocked the breath out of me, as along with the sense of shame came the realization that Johor is right; our behavior really _doesn't_ make sense.We don't have to sit idly and accept evil by calling it "human nature."The one resounding note of hope in the book is that evil is NOT our nature.We have been perverted by Shammat, but we can choose to resist.The problem is that most of us don't.It is easier to give in to the influences around us and let ourselves slip into the mess...
The second half of the book consists of journals and notes by natives of Shikasta, and develops into more of a conventional narrative.This part seems weaker than the first half, but it does mitigate the intensity of the reader's own guilt and provides an upbeat conclusion to the whole experience.I really want to read the rest of this series, but most of it seems to be currently unavailable...
I would call this a "must-read" for anybody interested in spirituality, morality, Gnosticism, or who wants to gain a wider, clearer perspective on the human condition than that offered by established religions.This book will make you think.This book will make you tremble. ... Read more

14. African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 464 Pages (1993-08-04)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$2.94
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0060924330
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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A highly personal story of the eminent British writer returning to her African roots that is "brilliant . . . [and] captures the contradictions of a young country."--New York Times Book Review ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

4-0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book about Zimbabwe
I have never been in Africa and have never read any of the books about the continent except for Nadine Gordiner's fiction.While I loved the begginning of the book, the later parts become a bit sloppy and at time impatient in terms of writing style.The observations, however, about the country of Zimbabwe over the decades, and in the time after declaration of independence are amazing.One is able to follow up on lives of writer's old friends, new people she meets on her trips, amazing animals, plants and food.I have learned a lot about country , it's people and customs, racism, reverse racism, sexism, deseases and corruption a new country is struggling with.Highly recommended read for anyone interested in learning more about this amazing country and African continent.

4-0 out of 5 stars notitle
Woof!What a read!442 pages in 6 days.Ask me anything about Zimbabwe.The home of Lessing's childhood from 5 til 30, when she moved to England.Easy reading, at times not too organized, nor, I think, rewritten too much.Could have been better.But what she is so good at is the small detail - about the dogs, or food, or dress.The small things that make up life. I think she tries hard not to be judgmental, to give both sides of the picture after 1980, when Zimbabwe became an independent nation.But it would seem like many countries in Africa today, riddled with corruption and stupidity and lack of foresight.Or the world in general, for that matter.Nowadays, why single out Africa?Sounds like it once was (is?) a beautiful country with a mild climate because it is so high.Very interesting book.

4-0 out of 5 stars An Unsure Joy
This was the only non-travel guide about Africa in my local library branch when I got back from 8 months in East Africa, so I picked it up. Certainly a very interesting picture of the slow death of British colonialism, despite Zimbabwean independence in 1980. And the successive trips provide a living view of changing attitudes and opinions, both of European expatriates and Nationals. Her inner dialogue of changes, good and bad (both very grey categories), is very informative as well.

That said, there is only a loose thread of continuing story that flows through the entire text. Granted, she's documenting her travels, but it seems a bit more perspective (or a more involved editor) could have helped give the book a bit more flow. I'd recommend it quickly to those interested in an authentic look at Africa, but probably not for those looking for a casual read during lunch breaks. ... Read more

15. Mara and Dann: An Adventure
by Doris Lessing
Paperback: 416 Pages (2000-01-01)
list price: US$15.95 -- used & new: US$0.46
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 006093056X
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Thousands of years in the future, all the northern hemisphere is buried under the ice and snow of a new Ice Age. At the southern end of a large landmass called Ifrik, two children of the Mahondi people, seven-year old Mara and her younger brother, Dann, are abducted from their home in the middle of the night. Raised as outsiders in a poor rural village, Mara and Dann learn to survive the hardships and dangers of a life threatened as much by an unforgiving climate and menacing animals as by a hostile community of Rock People. Eventually they join the great human migration North, away from the drought that is turning the southern land to dust, and in search of a place with enough water and food to support human life. Traveling across the continent, the siblings enter cities rife with crime, power struggles, and corruption, learning as much about human nature as about how societies function. With a clear-eyed vision of the human condition, Mara and Dann is imaginative fiction at its best.

Amazon.com Review
Question: What do Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear andDoris Lessing's Mara and Dann have in common? Answer: an ice age.Not the same ice age, of course--Auel's series of prehistoric adventurestook place 35,000 years ago, during the last global freeze; Lessing's tale,on the other hand, is set several thousand years in the future, during thenext one. Nevertheless, both books are concerned with profoundshifts in the development of humankind. In Lessing's imagined world, theNorthern Hemisphere is completely covered with ice and humanity hasretreated south. In a land called Ifrik, young Mara and her even youngerbrother, Dann, are kidnapped one night from their family home and taken tolive among strangers: "The scene that the child, then the girl, then theyoung woman tried so hard to remember was clear enough in its beginnings.She had been hustled--sometimes carried, sometimes pulled along by thehand--through a dark night, nothing to be seen but stars, and then she waspushed into a room and told, Keep quiet." We soon learn that the childrenhave been stolen for their own good, though it will be some time before wediscover why. Growing up in a drought-parched land, Mara and Dann learn atan early age how to survive both the hostile environment and enemy peoples.

Eventually, conditions grow so bad in Ifrik that an entire continent ofpeople begin a great northern migration. As Mara and Dann walk the lengthof the land, Lessing takes the opportunity to comment on the lost citiesand vanished civilizations whose remains dot the landscape. That theseancient ruins belong to our civilization makes Mara's curiosityabout them resonate eerily. Danger dogs every step; the children arecaptured by different, warring groups and their destinies take verydifferent paths. A political novelist first and foremost, Lessing uses herfuturistic fable to comment on the sins and foibles of humanity as it isnow--on war and slavery, sexism and racism--and on its one saving grace,the ability to love. --Margaret Prior ... Read more

Customer Reviews (27)

4-0 out of 5 stars A vision of the future
Lessing's vision of a drought ravaged future seems bleak at first until one gets to know the characters and falls in love with the story. A must read if you are interested in post-apocalyptic literature. This books brings our view of the self and our world down to an ephemeral image at the mercy of nature.

5-0 out of 5 stars Not your every day post-apocolyptic book
I usually never do these reviews but this story was worth it. There were some parts that I thought were a little too convenient and far fetched but overall the story and the struggle was brutal and memorable. The characters were well developed and because I cared so deeply for the Mara and Dann, the book was really hard to put down.It really makes you wonder if the future really could be like this book. I highly recommend it!

I would definitely recommend this book, but not to a young adult. I would say this should be an 17 and up read.

2-0 out of 5 stars Slow adventure, with many implausible moments and a cornball ending
After carefully reading cautionary reviews on LivingSocial (Facebook), I surmised that Mara and Dann would be slow and rewarding.After reading the book, I agree with the many reviewers who describe the book as slow.But rewarding?How can a book filled with so many implausible actions and two-dimensional characters be rewarding?

For quite a while (150 pages?) I was hooked.I loved the landscape and characters Lessing created.I was swept away into a new world, with intriguing cultures and a vivid landscape.I was curious to know Mara's thoughts and what would become of her.But as the characters journey northward, the story loses coherence.

We move through several areas of Ifrik (Africa) and survey their societies.But the journey itself has very little to compel us--we want to get north, because of some vague notion that things are better.Other than that, there is precious little to pull us through the pages.The book feels like a clump of settings tossed together.At each stop, our protagonists get heavily involved, have intense relationships, lose each other, find each other, ditch everything, and move on.At times the novel feels slapped together, with unlikely little moments to solve its own connundrums.

Worst of all is the goofy presence of Kulik, who somehow lurks in a variety of settings, all across the continent, only to end up in a comic book battle at the novel's end.In her finale, as Lessing rushes to patch together and finish her increasingly silly story, she magically waves in a couple of long lost romantic interests.

I don't doubt that Lessing deserved the Nobel: I've heard that some of her other work is sublime.But this novel, despite its promising start, reads more like a trinket: Lessing played with it for a while, then left it to be kicked around in the dust.

5-0 out of 5 stars Loved this book
I loved this novel.It's a real page turner, for one thing.You can't wait to read on to the next chapter to see what will happen.I found myself really caring about the main characters, and thinking about them during the day when I wasn't reading the book.

The future setting is fascinating.It's fun to see our time through the eyes of people walking around in the ruins of our civilization.

Lessing does not hesitate to make her characters suffer - the book is not for the faint of heart - but it's all to good end, and she rescues them very pleasingly when you think they can't take it any more.

Finally, the book (without preaching, except a tiny bit at the very end) has given me a real appreciation of basic necessities like water and food and safety that we take for granted, and what it would be like to do without them.I swear, I am taking shorter showers since reading it!

5-0 out of 5 stars Elegance of Doris Lessing
Doris Lessing is a fantastic author & this is the best book in her long career of beautiful writing. This book is one that I will read again in a few years & probably again. Elegant writing & excellent story - an unforgettable book. ... Read more

16. The Sirian Experiments
by Doris May Lessing, Doris Lessing
Paperback: 336 Pages (1994-05-23)
list price: US$16.50 -- used & new: US$6.84
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0006547214
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Shortlisted for the 1981 Booker Prize. The SirianExperiments is the third volume in Doris Lessing's celebratedspace fiction series. 'Canopus in Argos: Archives'. In this interlnkedquintet of novels, she creates a new, extraordinary cosmos where thefate of the Earth is influenced by the rivalries and interactions ofthree powerful galactic empires, Canopus, Sirius and their enemy,Puttiora.blending myth, fable and allegory, Doris Lessing'sastonishing visionary creation both reflects and redefines the historyof own world from its earliest beginnings to an inevitable, tragicself-destruction.

The Sirian Experiments chronicles the origins of our planet,the three galactic empires fight for control of the human race. Thenovel charts the gradual moral awakening of its narrator, charts thecharts the gradual moral awakening of its narrator, Ambien II, a 'dry,dutiful, efficient' female Sirian administrator. Witnessing the wantoncolonisation of land and people, Ambien begins to question herinvolvement in such insidious experimentation, her faith in thepossibility os human progress itself growing weaker every day. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly rich and enjoyable
As with some other reviewers, this was my first Doris Lessing book, and it was a very pleasant surprise. It's not science fiction in the sense of speculative fiction -- it's more of a satire and allegory. While I don't disagree with the reviewers who mention that the main plot of the story is the narrator's inner development, the book is also about much more than that. It has many insightful observations on colonialism, economic growth, bureaucratic politics, the purpose of work and how social change begins, among other topics -- and is more entertaining than preachy in presenting them. (Caveat: if, like the NY Times reviewer of this book when it came out, you require that social commentary in a novel be expressed as a fully-developed philosophical system like Kant's or someone's, you may be disappointed.) The narrator's is not the only character to develop. There are several suspenseful sections, along with many beautifully-crafted descriptions. And at a purely science fiction level, it includes the very plausible observation that the most difficult part of dealing with beings from different planets is adjusting to their respective smells. A book I was sorry to see end; I ordered another in the Canopus in Argos series immediately on doing so.

1-0 out of 5 stars Not Nobel quality
I read this book to see how a Nobel Prize winning author would treat the
science fiction genre.Science fiction is often the platform from which
an author launches an examination of big social issues, and so it is
here as Lessing looks at questions of colonization, attitudes of
"advanced" nations to less civilized peoples, the problems of a society
whose technical achievements have far outrun its ethical evolution.And
some authors (for example, le Guin or Brin) can at the same time deliver
a gripping story with believable, if alien, characters whose fate we
care about.But Lessing cannot.

The narrator is a powerful administrator of a vast empire whose story
is a memoir covering her meddling in the affairs of a pseudo Earth.She
writes in wooden, deadly prose, many passages in the passive voice, of
experiments on various planets involving lower animals, of projects
interfering with civilizations and people, of social upheavals and
planetary engineering, anonymous and colorless.Her language isn't
any better when she writes of her own situation: for example"The other
was Klorathy, who I understood as I thought of him would not regard this
little servant of even the most horrible power with anything but - at
most - a detached dislike."Of course, this awkward stuff is supposed
to reflect the narrator's shriveled personality; but why subject readers
to such insult?One does not have to look far in Earth's history to
find officials of great empires who wrote with vigor and eloquence.

A novel must contain believable characters and situations to retain our
interest; this one does not.Ambien II, one of five ruling Sirian
autocrats exhibits astounding incompetence: she, potentially immortal,
visits primitive societies alone and unprotected, sets foot alone in the
empire of the Incas professing to know hardly anything about them (yet
speaking their language) and is almost sacrificed - she had no emergency
plan, nothing to fall back on, incredible in an individual responsible
for planning Galactic enterprises.Her job calls for her to undertake
organizing construction work on a barren planet by crews of apes in space
suits press-banged from a backward planet; or performing "scientific"
experiments on altitude adaptation with another unfortunate species.
This in an empire that can move planets out of their orbits and travel
between the stars!Lessing and Ambien II are as ignorant of Newton as
they are of Darwin, making references to "science" in the story
utterly laughable.

Ambien II's moral education throughout the book is at the hands of
superior being who employs that highly over-rated, low-bit-rate scheme,
the Socratic method, in which the answers are dragged from within the
pupil, never given to her straight out.It is a frustrating experience
for everyone concerned, especially the reader.

5-0 out of 5 stars Lessing is more!
I have a large library.I find myself recommending this book over and over.Moreover, the sender sent me a first edition.

5-0 out of 5 stars A first-person tale of transformation
At heart, this book is about how people see themselves and each other. The form of the story is a first-person journal, written in a deliberately academic tone.

The content, though, is one person's total change of her place in her world. The writer's initial view looks down on the world around her, as filled with inferior beings. After some time and much confusion, she learns to look up towards the higher qualities she might aspire to.

The crucial moment in the book may be the phrase, "They should be treated as they treat others." Of course, the author (at that point) can not say "I should be treated ..." From then on, the author's broadening of view accelerates. Lessing may romanticize personal advancement, but is brutally honest about the costs that it can entail.

Lessing carefully paces the book to end at the highest point of the story. It's a pleasant change from authors who run out of things to say 50 or 100 pages before reaching the back cover. A small accident of history mars the book only slightly. Many years after the book was written, a new sleep medication was put on the market: Ambien, the name Lessing coincidentally assigned her protagonist. This book has a few slow moments, when that accident of name seemed apt. Still, this is an excellent book for unhurried reading.

5-0 out of 5 stars Experiment successful
The Empire of Sirius, formerly the enemy of Canopus, has now for some time been its uneasy and mistrustful ally. Though highly advanced technologically, and despite being sophisticated social engineers, the Sirians are suffering some upheaval because of the many members of their population who feel that their life lacks a worthy purpose. Ambien II, a member of the Five who govern the Empire, is befriended by Klorathy, an agent of Canopus, in the course of their mutual dealings upon and around the planet Rohanda. Ambien II's education in the means and motives of Canopus, and her eventual realisation that, doubtless unique in the history of galactic diplomacy, Canopus means what it says and does what it promises, is the major subject of The Sirian Experiments. Doris Lessing has written, "I could like Ambien II better than I do;" which is a pity, for Ambien II, along with Rachel Sherban in Shikasta and the incensed innocent Incent in The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire, is one of the most appealing characters in the quintet. Her growth from efficient, obedient social scientist (who deplores the changing of our planet's name from Rohanda (Fertile) to Shikasta (Wounded) as showing "amixture of poeticism and pedantry typical of Canopus") into willing pupil, sometime rescuer, and eventually into that amazing paradox, the clear-headed visionary, is a triumph of characterisation. Her report - careful, thorough, just and drily humorous - betters Shikasta in its fusion of the personal with the cosmic, and contains one of the most spectacular set-pieces in the whole series, as well as some of its most poignant personal encounters. The ending is quietly ironic, without the sense of definite progress which was present at the end of the previous two books - the major breakthrough here takes place inside Ambien II herself, though further, exterior victories may just possibly be on the way. This book (not to mention the quintet as a whole) is the kind of thing science fiction was meant to be all about. ... Read more

17. African Stories (A Touchstone Book)
by Doris Lessing
 Paperback: 666 Pages (1981-10)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$29.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0671428098
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars Fascinating- fantastic collection of work
THis is a collection of the best of Doris Lessing's short stories and a couple of novellas all set in her native Africa. From Rhodesia to Kenya and such we see many different stories and perspectives. We meet colonial Boers, English farmers, native legends, native peoples, miners, scholars, women, children, men, hunters, animals- just about everything!
Her stories begin in the early part of the 1900s and as they progress into the 1950s and 1960s the political tone changes with the times without being a political narrative. The focus is on people and storytelling. It is no wonder Doris Lessing is known as one of the best writers in English fiction- this book is amazing!
... Read more

18. The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five: As Narrated by the Chroniclers of Zone Three (Canopus in Argos: Archives)
by Doris May Lessing, Doris Lessing
Paperback: 304 Pages (1994-05-23)
list price: US$16.50 -- used & new: US$7.22
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0006547206
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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the Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five is thesecond volume in Doris Lessing's celebrated space fiction series,'Canopus in Argos: Archives'. In this interlinked quintet of novels,she creates a new, extraordinary cosmos where the fate of the Earth isinfluenced by the rivalries and interactions of three powerfulgalactic empires, Canopus, Sirius and their enemy, Puttiora. Blendingmyth, fable and alegory, Doris Lessing's astonishing visionarycreation both reflects and redefines the history of own world from itsearliest beginnings to an inevitable, tragic self-destruction.

The Marriagesis set in the indeterminate lands of the Zones,Strange realms which encircle the Earth. Zone Three, a peaceful,contented, matriarchalparadise, is ruled by the gentle QueenAl-Ith;the neighbouring Zone four is land given to war and chaos,controlled by brutal warrior-king, Ben-Ata. Their marriage, a meldingof the extreme male and female principles, threatens to destabilisethe entire galactic empire. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

3-0 out of 5 stars Marriage between Zones...
This novel, the second in the Canopus in Argos series is a look at some of the zones alluded to in Shikasta, the first volume in the series. The Marriage is well written and interesting, between fairy tale and philosophy, and builds somewhat on conditions in the first novel. At a bit of a tangent however. It hints at the upwards reincarnation of souls where the levels of enlightenment live side by side although divided by barriers difficult to cross. Each level has problems of perception and thought that stall the rising of a soul towards its ultimate being. Zone five draws a parallel to Shikasta and hence to earth. The Marriage is required reading if you are going through the series, but is not as thought provoking or as original as Shikasta.Fortunately, the third novel brings you back to the original settings and gets you really thinking again.

5-0 out of 5 stars Science fiction for those who really don't like SciFi
I first read this book many years ago, and had a happy memory of it. I was very pleased that a fresh reading lived up to that memory.

On its surface, it examines the roles of men and women, represented by two estranged, neighboring Zones. The first is pastoral, prosperous, and ineffective. The second is harsh, militaristic, and also ineffective. The two are not really reunited, but they break their polarization and isolation. Peaceful exchange between them is restored, and both are healthier for it.

Saying anything more would be saying too much. I was interested, though, that the nations seemed to imitate the mating of their ambassadors. One nation was archetypically male, the other female. The ambassadors, like germ cells, are living things that pass from one nation to the other, and are united. I never though about it before, but fertilization is destructive both sperm and ovum, even if somthing new comes from the fusion. The protagonists, the envoys of the two Zones, similarly suffer for the greater future. Other metaphors emerge from the story, too, and some may have strong personal meaning for you.

I really can't do justice to the elegance and peaceful pace of Lessing's writing. That, you'll have experience for yourself. Although this book is second in a series of five, they can be read in any order. Each book's story is unrelated to the others, but the set as a whole is far more than the concatenation of its parts. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and eventually enjoy coming back to it again.

5-0 out of 5 stars A brilliant transformational map!
I read this brilliant and much beloved book of Doris Lessing every year. And I learn something more from it each time I read it. There is one pagenear the end of the book which is rippled with my tears of past readings.Each time I read it, I think that I won't cry this time. And yet when Iarrive at the bumply page, my tears unleash yet again.

This is aprofoundly moving story, yes, a brilliant and touching love story. Yet, itis much more than that. It is a map of transformation, one of the deepest,truest ones which I have found.

I am the author of six metaphysical booksmyself, and this beloved book of Doris Lessings, along with the rest of herinspirational "Canopus in Argus" series, has played a profoundpart in my own personal growth and transformation. For this, I am extremelygrateful. Thank you Doris Lessing for writing so exquisitely about what isusually only known deep within our core beings! ... Read more

19. The Sun Between Their Feet
by Doris May Lessing, Doris Lessing
Paperback: 384 Pages (1993)
list price: US$18.60 -- used & new: US$2.25
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0006545432
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This much-acclaimed collection of stories vividly evokesboth the grandeur of Africa, the glare of its sun and the wide openspace, as well as the great, irresolvable tensions between whites andblacks. Tales of poor white farmers and their lonely wives, of stormair thick with locusts, of ants and pomegranate trees, black servantsand the year of hunger in a native village - all combine to present apowerful image of a continent which seems incorruptible in spite ofthe people who plough, mine and plunder it to make their living. InDoris Lessing's own words, 'Africa gives you the knowledge that man isa small creature, among other creatures, in a large landscape.' ... Read more

20. Doris Lessing (Bloom's Modern Critical Views)
by Kim Welsch
Hardcover: 274 Pages (2003-04)
list price: US$45.00 -- used & new: US$10.00
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0791074412
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Editorial Review

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Dubbed an iconoclast, Doris Lessing experimented with radical change. Her fiction shifted between realistic, mystical, and science fiction, and achieved a statement of political and social consequence with each book. Study Lessing's work through some of the most respected criticism on the subject.

This title, Doris Lessing, part of Chelsea House Publishers’ Modern Critical Views series, examines the major works of Doris Lessing through full-length critical essays by expert literary critics. In addition, this title features a short biography on Doris Lessing, a chronology of the author’s life, and an introductory essay written by Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities, Yale University. ... Read more

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