Doris Lessing tackles the 1960s and their legacy head-on in her most involving, most personal, most political novel for some years
It’s the morning of the Sixties and it’s suppertime at Freedom Hall, the most welcoming household in North London. Frances Lennox stands at her stove, bringing another feast to readiness before ladling it out to the motley, youthful crew assembled around her hospitable table – here are her two sons, smarting at their upbringing but beginning to absorb their mother’s lessons. Around them are ranged their schoolfriends and girlfriends and ex-friends and new friends fresh off the street. The feast begins. Wine and talk flow. Everything is up for grabs, everything is being changed and being challenged. And here in this kitchen, the nutritious tolerance can be sniffed even above the heady fish stew.
But what is being tolerated? And where will it end? Over there in the corner is Frances’ ex-husband, Comrade Johnny, who delivers his rousing tirades, then laps up the adolescent adulation while he laps up his soup, before disappearing into the night to evade the clutches of his responsibilities. Upstairs sits Johnny’s exiled mother, funding all, but finding she can embrace only one lost little girl – Sylvia, who has to travel to Africa, to freshly, fervently independent Zimlia, to find out who she is and what she wants. And, yes, what of the Africans, what will they tolerate?
These are the people dreaming the Sixties into being and the people who on the morning after all that dreaming, woke to find they were the ones taxed with clearing up and making good. And Freedom Hall stands sentry to all the changes, all the dreams – embracing its charges before seeing them off again into the outside world.
No living novelist in Britain is in a better position than Doris Lessing to look hard and long at what the world did in that eventful decade and at the world that decade made. And perhaps no-one else has better expressed the difference between the male experience of the 1960s and what followed and the female experience of the same thing than she has here in The Sweetest Dream.
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'Her portraits of sympathetic human relationships are of quite staggering beauty… It would be hard to exaggerate the splendour of this book' The Times
'The haunting brilliance of her characters…the passion of her ideas and vision, remain undiminished. She's up there in the pantheon with Honore (Balzac) and George (Eliot)' Independent
'A startling, burningly committed book…she is one of the great imaginative fantastists of our time' Spectator
'Thank goodness for Doris Lessing…she never fails to expose the essential folly of our dreams and good intentions…a great book with a cast of memorable characters' Evening StandardAbout the Author:
Doris Lessing was the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature and is one of the most important writers of the second half of the twentieth century. Her first novel, ‘The Grass is Singing’ was published in 1950, and since then her international reputation has flourished. Among her other celebrated novels are ‘The Golden Notebook’, ‘The Summer Before the Dark’, and ‘Memoirs of a Survivor’. Her most recent works include two volumes of autobiography, ‘Under my Skin’ and ‘Walking in the Shade’, her most recent novel is ‘The Cleft’.
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