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Africa

The Grass is Singing - Doris Lessing

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This is not one to read if you're in need of a bit of cheering up. Honestly - it's not. I thought I would broaden my reading on Africa a bit. I've read some travel books and the McCall Smith Ladies' Detective Agency series but those are kind of cosy, I thought perhaps I should try some gritty realism. Hmm. Perhaps next time I should lie in a darkened room and wait for the urge to pass...


Briefly, the story is told in flashback and concerns Mary - born and brought up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe of course), her childhood was difficult. She gets away and for many years works in an office and supports herself. Then she overhears her 'friends' discussing her and is shocked to find they think of her as rather a laughable old maid and that they think she should marry. Taking their comments to heart she marries Dick Turner, a hopeless farmer, and ends up in exactly the same kind of situation as in her childhood - on a farm in the middle of the veldt. From there it's a long and painful deterioration into mental instability and a complete breakdown, leading to the reasons for the opening scene of the book where Mary is found murdered on the verandah.

This book is not so much about Africa - though it is that - as about a really bad marriage, poverty and mental instability. It could be anywhere really but the fact that it is Africa and that it also deals in depth with race relations somewhere around the 1940s and 50s makes the book a very important one. Some of the detail horrified me and my 2007 sensibilities but it's the truth and it needs to be out there and known. The book is wonderfully written, Doris Lessing is (was?) a fantastic writer. You can actually feel the heat, the isolation and the claustrophobia in this book, she is that good. All that said, it depressed the hell out of me and I'm now in need of a really good cheerful read!

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