Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Grass is Singing - Doris Lessing

I got this book to read as part of a circle book club, and my heart sank.  I had never read any Doris Lessing although she was a particularly prolific author.  But I needed to give my comments and so I sat down to read.  What a revelation!  This, her first book, published in her early thirties, is an exploration into how the mind works when confronted with things it cannot cope with - but whatever it is about, it is the words and how each sentence is put together that gave me joy whilst reading a very dark tale.

Mary is young, single, living in a "girl's club" in a town in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the years before WW1.  She has fun, she works hard.  She's a shorthand typist and personal secretary, a job which she doesn't find difficult, and which gives her money to live on, for nice clothes, for cinema visits, and for generally enjoying life.  She has lots of friends, both female and male, and the weekends are usually taken up with picnics, swimming parties, or sports like the odd round of tennis.  All in all then, a good life until she overhears a conversation about herself by two friends.  Her life is turned around in that moment, and it is not long before she wants to marry.  She meets a shy farmer and within a year, having only met him a couple of times, they are wed and living on a small farm, hours away from the city.  This is her total undoing, and that of her husband Dick too.  Even though the first page tells the end of the story, I found myself wanting everything to work out well for both of them, knowing that it was never going to.

This is the second book in a month that I've read about poor whites in Africa (the other is reviewed in Aug 2016 a non-fiction - The Toe Rags) and with just two books, my understanding of white farmers on the African continent has grown enormously, and given me much food for thought.

Amazon reviewers are mixed in their praise (or not!) so this is a real Marmite book.  But I have to recommend it.  At only 2003 pages it is not a long read.  It's not a cheery read either but it's style is wonderful.  A joy to see a complex sentence that is so well put together  that it makes you want to read the next one.

The title, in case you are interested, comes from The Waste Land by T S Elliot -

 "In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel........"

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