Monday, 14 September 2015


I keep a book/blog diary that I use to jot down my thoughts about a book I'm reading as I'm thinking them, rather than trying to remember everything I loved/hated about it when I come to write the review. But for some reason, the page under the heading 'The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing' is empty.

When I think of the novel now, a week after reading it, these are the words that pop into my mind:
  • dark
  • disturbing
  • clean
  • simple
  • intense
  • harsh
  • depression
  • hopeless
  • colonialism
  • oppression
  • racism
  • segregation
  • perfect.
It wasn't that I didn't have any thoughts worth writing about The Grass Is Singing, I was just so incredibly absorbed that it didn't even occur to me to take a minute to stop and write. This is an adult book, and a very serious one. It's not only a work of art but also a very strong political statement. My favourite combination! The Grass Is Singing is set in South Africa/Rhodesia during a time when the 'natives' were no longer slaves, but they were far from free. Far from equal. The narrative revolves around a white woman from a fairly poor background who managed to get a decent job, and lived a perfectly content life for many years until she eventually felt pressured to get married. She married a poor, good intentioned, and hardworking farmer. But her life changed from the moment she did so.

What I love, and admire incredibly about Doris Lessing's style of writing is how she managed to depict the treatment of the natives without making it the CENTRE of the novel, you know? Like it was a really important theme, probably the main point she was trying to get across, but it was shown through the eyes of the British settlers, and through Mary in particular. Through Mary's eyes, the natives were a disgusting irritation, and their presence didn't become truly tangible until the second half of the novel. The natives were hardly given a voice, and many of them were simply passive, accepting whatever treatment came their way. There was no pity for the natives, no idea of them as fellow human beings, in fact the one person who had even the slightest sympathy for them was quickly dismissed as a silly boy, fresh from England with all that countries crazy ideas of equality. Eventually, even he fell into the same pattern as the whites in South Africa. 

Doris Lessing simply shows us how black people were treated in their OWN HOME COUNTRY by white colonisers. The best way to do this? By showing it through a genuine, and realistic point of view. No beating around the bush, no softening of sharp edges. No compromising of the truth. 

The other big theme was depression. I think this is the second book which shows the slow decline into depression that I've totally fallen in love with. The first was The Hours, which was... simply stunning. What both Michael Cunningham and Doris Lessing do in their depiction of depression is create it in the most ordinary of circumstances, and environments. They then pick apart the characters thoughts, strand by strand and the process becomes incredibly monotonous, because it's a reflection of the characters life. And as the workings of their minds become tangled up and more than a little confusing, so does the plot, as well as the narrative.

Agh. Both novels are just a couple of masterpieces written by geniuses.

What great novels have you read that give a really realistic portrayal of a mental illness? Do you prefer novels packed with action or something more simple, and quiet? And have you guys read anything of Doris Lessing's? If so let me know! I want to read all the things she's ever written.


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