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Unwritten Novels

Doris Lessing, 11 January 1990

... I like to imagine that I am reading a piece headed ‘Unwritten Novels’:Just sent for review, a parcel of reprints of neglected Victorian novels, each of unique interest and illuminating, as only literature can, areas of 19th-century life known hitherto only to historians. (It was a historian who said: ‘It is to the glory of the novelists, and the shame of the historians, that it is the former who have written the novels which present the past to the common reader ...


Ian Hamilton: A Hoax within a Hoax, 15 November 1984

... the Old Could, and shortly afterwards it was revealed that Jane Somers was just another name for Doris Lessing. Now both books are reissued in a single volume under Lessing’s name – with a rather dotty introduction explaining why she had gone to all this trouble.* The explanation is in two halves: one half is ...

Doris Lessing’s Space Fiction

Robert Taubman, 20 December 1979

by Doris Lessing.
Cape, 365 pp., £5.95
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Fergus Lamont 
by Robin Jenkins.
Canongate, 293 pp., £7.95
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A Married Man 
by Piers Paul Read.
Alison Press/Secker, 264 pp., £5.25
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And Again? 
by Sean O’Faolain.
Constable, 267 pp., £5.95
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... Shikasta, in Doris Lessing’s novel, is our earth, and Shikasta is short for a very long title that speaks of personal, psychological and historical documents filed on this subject on the remote but friendly star Canopus. In earthly terms, some of the earlier documents look like reworkings of Biblical stories, or of Plato’s complicated myths ...

Pointing Out the Defects

Hilary Mantel, 22 December 1994

Under My Skin 
by Doris Lessing.
HarperCollins, 419 pp., £20, October 1994, 9780002555456
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... her able to see how the single ant works and worries in the social heap. ‘That was important,’ Doris Lessing says: to be born in 1919, when 29 million people died in the influenza pandemic. Important, too, the blue marks left on her face by the forceps. She was a child of damage, ‘one of the walking wounded’. This is a brilliant and brave ...

Queen to King Four

Robert Taubman, 19 June 1980

The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five 
by Doris Lessing.
Cape, 245 pp., £5.95, May 1980, 9780224017909
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No Country For Young Men 
by Julia O’Faolain.
Allen Lane, 368 pp., £5.95, May 1980, 0 7139 1308 8
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The Girl Green as Elderflower 
by Randolph Stow.
Secker, 150 pp., £5.50, May 1980, 9780436497315
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The Sending 
by Geoffrey Household.
Joseph, 192 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 7181 1872 3
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... In Shikasta, some months ago, Doris Lessing engaged with space fiction at its most apocalyptic, covered aeons of time and used scores of characters, and left some doubt about her meaning. All is comparatively clear and simple in The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five, which has the form of a fable – one where values are quite explicit, characters few and the action limited to a single episode in history (history at least as it has passed into the archives of Zone Three, whose chronicler tells the story ...


Elizabeth Lowry: Doris Lessing, 22 March 2001

Doris LessingA Biography 
by Carole Klein.
Duckworth, 283 pp., £18.99, March 2000, 0 7156 2951 4
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Ben, in the World 
by Doris Lessing.
Flamingo, 178 pp., £6.99, April 2001, 0 00 655229 3
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... When Doris Lessing brought out the first two volumes of her autobiography, Under My Skin (1994) and Walking in the Shade (1997), she did so, as she explained, partly in ‘self-defence’, aware that at least ‘five American biographers’ were then writing their versions of her life. Some had been in touch and had been given short shrift; others she had never met ...

Baby Brothers

Dinah Birch, 18 April 1996

Love, Again 
by Doris Lessing.
HarperCollins, 345 pp., £15.99, April 1996, 0 00 223936 1
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Playing the Game 
by Doris Lessing, illustrated by Charlie Adlard.
HarperCollins, 64 pp., £6.99, December 1995, 0 586 21689 8
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... How does someone of Doris Lessing’s uncompromising intelligence turn into a little old lady? Not easily, especially if body conspires with mind in refusing to retire gracefully. ‘Most men and more women – young women afraid for themselves – punish older women with derision, punish them with cruelty, when they show inappropriate signs of sexuality ...

Women against Men

Anita Brookner, 2 September 1982

The Golden Notebook 
by Doris Lessing.
Joseph, 638 pp., £9.95, July 1982, 0 7181 0970 8
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... le Noir and Anna Karenina had set out to do for the France and the Russia of their time. This is Doris Lessing’s explicit intention. In a confused and defensive preface, written for the edition of 1972, she states her dissatisfaction with the English tradition and asserts that no 19th-century novel by an English writer could claim the same sort of ...

The Daughter Who Hated Her

Frank Kermode: Doris Lessing, 17 July 2008

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

She wore Isabel Marant

Joanna Biggs: Literary London, 2 August 2018

by Olivia Laing.
Picador, 140 pp., £12.99, June 2018, 978 1 5098 9283 9
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... referred to is, or who Mitzi, Mary-Kay, Andy and the first owner of a plate that used to belong to Doris Lessing are. The novel doesn’t have one key, but several keys, with the last probably belonging to Laing herself. It’s like the hyperreal Wolfgang Tillmans photo on the cover of a fly landed on a crabshell that has been broken open: the detail is ...

My Word-Untangling Machine

Jenny Diski, 10 September 2015

... There are no parallels here to actual people, except for one, a very minor character. Doris Lessing, The Sweetest Dream I can’t​ get away from that paragraph. It feels like a well, bottomless; time to hold your breath before you hear the distant splash of a coin somewhere down there. It’s the careful donation of kindness. The passage ...

One Eye on the Neighbours

Jeremy Harding, 22 April 1993

A Complicated War: The Harrowing of Mozambique 
by William Finnegan.
California, 344 pp., £25, April 1992, 0 520 07804 7
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Conspicuous Destruction: War, Famine and the Reform Process in Mozambique 
by Karl Maier, Kemal Mustafa and Alex Vines.
Africa Watch, 202 pp., £8.99, July 1992, 1 56432 079 0
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African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe 
by Doris Lessing.
HarperCollins, 442 pp., £16.99, October 1992, 0 00 255019 9
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... not be the first African state to pull the rabbit from the remains of the hat. Five years ago, Doris Lessing asked a coffee farmer in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe about Mozambicans crossing over the border in search of food and sanctuary. ‘Poor bastards,’ he replied, ‘they’re starving down there, don’t forget they are coming to get food ...


Mary-Kay Wilmers: On Jenny Diski, 19 May 2016

... Jennifer Simmonds, daughter of Mr and Mrs Simmonds, she became the disputatious quasi-daughter of Doris Lessing; married Roger Marks; and seeing no reason why she now had to share a name with Jenny Marx, Karl Marx’s sad and stoical wife, took advantage of the fact that Rogajinsky was a name in Roger’s family and became Jenny Diski, wife of Roger ...


Patricia Craig, 19 September 1985

But for Bunter 
by David Hughes.
Heinemann, 223 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 434 35410 4
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Bunter Sahib 
by Daniel Green.
Hodder, 272 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 340 36429 7
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The Good Terrorist 
by Doris Lessing.
Cape, 370 pp., £9.50, September 1985, 0 224 02323 3
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Unexplained Laughter 
by Alice Thomas Ellis.
Duckworth, 155 pp., £8.95, August 1985, 0 7156 2070 3
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Polaris and Other Stories 
by Fay Weldon.
Hodder, 237 pp., £8.95, August 1985, 0 340 33227 1
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... transformations. Authors sometimes engage in odd enterprises: with her last novel, for example, Doris Lessing discarded the expertise she’d been cultivating since 1950. The second part of her Diary of Jane Somers is an exceptionally trite and tiresome piece of work. The Good Terrorist, however, shows a resurgence of her customary boldness and ...

The Partisan Coffee House

Nicholas Faith, 1 June 2017

... by usual suspects such as Michael Foot, Barbara Castle, Kenneth Tynan, the publisher John Calder, Doris Lessing, Michael Redgrave and Wolf Mankowitz, but also such distinguished figures as William Empson. ‘Events’ were held in the basement where various tendencies including ‘skiffle, trad jazz, performance art and radical politics ...

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