I read somewhere -- I think on this site -- that the GN is considered DL's 'best' or 'most famous' work. Do you think this is true? I know it's a little off topic but do you have a favorite Doris Lessing book? I loved the Children of Violence, esp. the 4-Gated City, which has a lot in common with the GN, for me, because of the London landmarks and the swinging sixties feel. I also love 'The Summer Before the Dark,' and adore 'The Making of the Representative for Planet 8.' Especially in light of today's environmental picture.

    I am very taken in by Lessing's descriptions of London. The Beatles, Sylvia Plath, Carnaby St., all that cultural movement was the background for the GN. I believe it is Anna who says that she is a child of Bloomsbury (p.18 online/28UK/6US) 'her mother and father had gathered ... in the circles around Huxley, Lawrence' but of course the star of that group was Virginia Woolf. So she's establishing herself as the daughter of V. Woolf, and her voice to me takes up more weight and beauty. So many of DL's plots contain women clawing for a separate space or identity, echoing VW's desire for women to have a room of their own. I was struck by how clearly Lessing describes Molly's writing room. It's as if it is a shrine, described so clearly and majestically at the end of a very long, chatty chapter in another house. I believe that Woolf was one of the first -- or the first -- writer to favor the interior, emotional, personal, female voice. Her writing is considered very psychological -- she tries to get inside her head and write things down. At the end of the 19th century it was a very major shift. I see Lessing as going further with this. Does anybody else see this Woolf-Wulf tangent or have any other ideas?

    I am struck by how clear, spare, non-fussy and linear the writing style of the first chapter is. The only metaphor I can remember is the one at the end, where Molly compares herself to a general (the notebooks her soldiers). After all the flashbacks, irony, circuitous writing, and snark of contemporary writing (OK i read too many blogs) wow! how refreshing. And then the style of course completely changes in Chapter 2.
    • CommentAuthormartine
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2008
    well, just bought the 5th child
    Having convinced my bookgroup to read this book, I dread their reactions if they hate it.
    Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s a book many many people like to think they’ve read but get vague about when pressed. Chunks get skipped. I was always rather pleased with myself for having it on my shelves, but I realise now I haven’t actually read it before.

    Now, 225 pages in, I realise to my surprise that I’m hooked, going to bed early to read, and enjoying the comments of the readers and forum contributors very much - I’d love to be commenting on those, but it’s a lengthy business cross referring my reading and theirs, then writing something precise and articulate enough for this public space.

    So: vague generalities: the centrality of organised politics and The Party reminds me of my time Sheffield in the 1980s when political correctness and lefty in-fighting were at their most intimidating and compelling. I was amused by the way she writes with such certainty about vaginal orgasms and that horrible word frigidity, the description (or rather lack of description) of outdoor sex on the ground which doesn’t include any comedy about unfastenings and backache. Oh, and the reference somewhere to a man driving her “fast and well” through Central London dates this too. But I like Lessing’s preparedness to write what she actually feels rather than what she ought to. (I keep picturing Doris stepping out the taxi with a Tesco bag to lambast the press for telling her she’d won the Nobel prize).

    Am I unusual in finding the writing charmless? Not much humour or sparkling imagery. This is someone pinning me in a corner and going on and on about What She Thinks. And yet I’m gripped by the variations on characters fictionalised and refictionalised, notebooks and novels started and stalled.. I identify with her wish to get it all out, to look at all those fragments and try to make sense of the threads. Oh, I felt her use of press cuttings about Korea and Russia was an easy way of shoehorning in global politics without having to describe much beyond personal experience. But I admire her preparedness to experiment, to stop and start stories – it reminds me of Cloud Atlas in the boldness of its structure. I’ll keep reading the book and the comments here, and hope my bookgroup colleagues will find the process as interesting as I have so far.
    • CommentAuthorphilippa
    • CommentTimeDec 4th 2008
    Woolf/Wulf? Yes! Never occurred to me but the fascination with interiority -- psychological as well as spatial -- fits right in. And the importance (not to mention fears) attached to the point at which Anna and Ella move into their own spaces is critical. And when Anna witnesses Tommy violating her space AND reading her notebooks, something bad has to happen... as it quickly does. This is intriguing.
    • CommentAuthorphilippa
    • CommentTimeDec 4th 2008
    On marthaquest's other topic: favourite Lessing works. I'm a huge fan of the Martha Quest novels, but I had a hard time with the later science fiction stuff, I confess. My loss, I realise, but they just never worked for me. I'm keen to read the new book she's just published about her parents.
    • CommentAuthornona
    • CommentTimeDec 12th 2008
    Re Chris's comments: I bet Bob has the same fear about dreading our potential hate of the book. There's always a worry about hating classics, a fear that you're "missing" something or aren't smart or worldly enough to understand the value or joy in a book on the Classics pedestal. I'm feeling pretty ambivalent about this book now that I'm more than half of the way through still unsure as to whether this book is going to forever shake me up. There are parts that have me thinking for hours but then there are parts that I roll my eyes at...mainly because even though there's a distinct effort to comment on racism, homophobia, etc. the text still seems so elitist, sneering, and narcissistic, the whole thing. I got nervous posting on the blog last night because I thought I was going to expose myself for missing some huge point. I do think this book is worthwhile, but I am struggling.
    Actually I'm now finding this book unputdownable! - on page 505 and our book group's in three days time. I have to finish it by then. I still don't know why it suddenly became so compelling - I still feel pinned in the corner by someone relentlessly self engrossed, despite her apparently caring political credentials. But her view of relationships is incredibly honest, ahead of its time as well as behind ours, and I'm rather impressed by the frankness about sex, the amount of it her Free Women do, pre Lady Chatterley and the Beatles first LP. But what a strange life as other woman to men who are so confident and so easily punctured. No wonder it's such a big job to sort herselves out. Now, I've got to get back to reading.. O, but this brick of a paperback with its dense paragraph-free pages of text is a great advert for e-Readers.