Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Brief History of My Relationship with the Novels of Doris Lessing

The Christmas before last, my parents gave me "The Grass is Singing," clad in textured paperback with a picture of an African sunset, and I finished it that day.  The story of Mary and her inherent fear and racism and repugnance fascinated me, as did the seductive landscape that she lives in, the harsh and arid plains of what was then Rhodesia.  I loved the image of those who eked out a living from the unforgiving climate, the strength and hardiness of those who stayed.  I loved the differences between Mary and her husband, and I loved that even though you couldn't exactly like Mary, you felt some sort of pity or connection to her - you've been with her all this way and seen what she's become.  It is a bleak and neurotic and incredibly compelling novel, the kind of thing that you love because of how true and real it is.
Then, a couple of weeks later, my parents gave me "The Summer Before the Dark" for my seventeenth birthday.  I didn't finish it as quickly, but it struck me just as much as her first novel did.  Again, it is bleak and wildly compelling, striking you with this fear of what is real.  It is raw and candid and emptying.
While these, I am ashamed to say, are the only two Lessing novels I've read, I've been amazed at how clearly she understands the human condition... how she can write about something that you, at seventeen, don't know much about but can still relate to and understand and feel for her pained and depressed characters.  I remember sitting at my desk in the early January morning and devouring page after page of the uncertainty and doubt and clawing aloneness that Kate feels so keenly in "The Summer Before the Dark" before doing my biology homework and having her intricate phrases, the emotion that pours out of the book, stay with me for the entire day.  It's a feeling that I only want in small doses, but one that is somewhat exhilarating - I kept having to stop and say to myself "this is from a book.  This is not you." 
Have you read any Doris Lessing novels?  What did you think?  Did you find them to be emotional and exhilarating and raw the way I did?

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