Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wishlist Wednesday

This week's wish comes from a friend's goodreads profile. I've only ever read one short story by Doris Lessing (A Woman on a Roof), and I've always been interested in reading more of her work and never gotten around to it. This book seems like a good place to start!

The Grandmothers
by Doris Lessing
The subtitle of this collection of stories—"Four Short Novels"—announces their ambition: each unfolds over decades, tracking with dispassionate precision how youthful notions come to define, and even defeat, a life. Two women seal their friendship by seducing each other's teen-age son; an aged counsellor recounts the decay of a mysterious ancient civilization ruled by a handsome but foolish despot; an impoverished black girl bears the child of a middle-class white boy, and is welcomed by his self-consciously liberal family. Lessing's scathing intelligence ranges widely, but her tales tend to wobble under the weight of her ideas.

She is at her best in the final story, which extends from England to the outposts of empire in South Africa and India during the Second World War. James Reid, a young conscript, puts ashore in South Africa in the course of this nightmare voyage and embarks on a liaison that transforms the rest of his life. The detail and almost hallucinatory power with which an era and an ethos are recaptured are Lessing at her best, comparable to Ian McEwan's amazing war scenes in Atonement. The other stories are on a much lower level. Still, the prize piece here is well worth the price.

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