When I heard on the radio today that Doris Lessing had died at age 94, I immediately took my Lessing books down from my bookshelf. She was a favorite author of mine when I was in college. I started with what came to be known as her Children of Violence series about her experiences growing up and coming of age in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), but I couldn’t find those early books in my library (they may be lurking in there somewhere).
What I did find is The Golden Notebook and The Four-Gated City, which I’ve read, and The Fifth Child, which remains on my TBR list.
I haven’t reread those books, so I can’t review them at this time, though I gave The Golden Notebook five stars on Goodreads based on my memories.
I remember my college friends and I adored her work because here, at last, was a powerful woman literary writer who spoke from the point-of-view of women about issues central to women. So much of literary fiction a couple of decades ago was dominated by men and their poisonous views about women. Writers like John Updike and John Fowles left me cold with their slobbering stories about the fat girls they’d had their first sexual experiences with, the girls being “easy,” presumably, because they were desperate for male attention.
Lessing published The Golden Notebook in 1962, many years before the feminist movement truly stood up on its feet and many years before I was in college. The book was an intoxicating breath of fresh air—here was a mentor, wise woman, and friend. She wrote about what she then called “the sex war” and the brutality of men towards women. She detailed in excruciating detail the turmoil of sexual relationships and women’s mental breakdowns. Though she didn’t come out and say so, it occurs to me now that Lessing linked women’s mental instability to their oppression in the male chauvinist society of the 1960s in which women had to fight for a crumb of the recognition, respect, and personal power men took for granted as their birthright.
No wonder we twenty-year olds loved her in college!
No wonder virtually all my books and stories are grounded in my heroines’ struggle for self-empowerment! I write science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, and romantic suspense, but my core obsession with women’s empowerment grounds the work across genres.
Yes, Lessing was, in her words, an “old Red;” in her later years backtracked from her far left politics. She was labeled as a “feminist” writer, but shrugged that off, too. She wrote about her experiences and her reactions as an intelligent critical observer.
So there you have it, my friends. I don’t have reviews ready for you at this time but if you’re searching for work by one of the literary masters of the twentieth century, you can’t go wrong to pick Doris Lessing, especially what remain for me her masterpieces, The Golden Notebook and The Four-Gated City.
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