The Daughter Who Hated Her

Frank Kermode

  • Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing
    Fourth Estate, 274 pp, £16.99, May 2008, ISBN 978 0 00 723345 8

Doris Lessing is now saying she finds it more of a nuisance than a pleasure to have won the Nobel Prize. Considering the scope of her achievements it seems that a convergence of the twain – Lessing and the prize, the Titanic and the iceberg – was fated, but it is understandable that the impact has been disagreeable; she cannot think celebrity is her business. Intent on exploring her own life and the state of the world in which she has lived it, her ambition is of the kind proper to an artist. In The Golden Notebook and elsewhere, she mentions her admiration for Thomas Mann and for the idea of the philosophical novel, now, she believes, an impossibility; but even so she thinks one can still claim to be serious. Her right to make that claim is supported by her permanent interest in the world’s wickedness and injustice, which compel her to be a writer on the heroic scale. Only thus could fiction be a form of political action more effective than canvassing for a party, though she has done that in her time.

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