Jane Davis is Director of The Reader and seems to have enough energy to run a small town. She writes:
I am writing at my desk in the office so don’t have my collected of works of Doris to hand and will have to write all this from memory. I began to read her in 1974, the year my daughter Sian, now 33 was born. I was 19 years old, knew nothing and had no education but I had found the Women’s Movement and on the bookshelves of my sisters were The Books of Sisterhood and of those books I started with Martha Quest. I must be representative of many women who read the Children of Violence series with a desperate life-hunger. Tell my story, we said as one, struggling around the nappy bucket (no disposables then, girls) while our lefty men went out to meetings and plotted world revolution. So far so normal.
The Golden Notebook, informed opinion seems to be, will be the book Doris is remembered for, and I did love it, its structure, its multi-tasking shape, its dear women. But it is not the one for my money. The Four Gated City – with its apocalyptic vision of a ruined world and amazing and broken minds, seemed a story of the frightening world I lived in. But it is not the one. I felt afraid of and sorely troubled by Memoirs of A Survivor, which I must have read about twenty times in the space of a few years, as if my reading mind sensed some vital nutrient there and yet could not release…but it is not the one. Briefing for a Descent Into Hell was the very first new hardback book I bought – a large-scale financial investment for a single mother working as a waitress in a café. And worth it, but not the one.
Go read Shikasta (and the four books that follow in Canopus In Argos) oh falling world, and recognise the genius of the woman who has picked up and transformed the George Eliot vision of the place and meaning of belief in a world that is past it. Read Shikasta and ask: what am I for? That is the question Doris lived to write for us.
The prize is like a very, very late birthday card. Should have arrived sooner but sent with good heart, so let’s enjoy it while re-reading this marvellous uncategorisable woman.
PS – got my husband through Shikasta too, and we are still fighting the battle of the sexes joyfully together twenty five years on… I owe that woman so much.
By Jane Davis
Read an interview with Doris Lessing from The Reader magazine here.