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The Cleft Hardcover – 2 Jan 2007

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; First U. S. Edition First Printing edition (2 Jan. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007233434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007233434
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2.6 x 22.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,393,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Doris Lessing, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2007, is one of the most celebrated and distinguished writers of recent decades. A Companion of Honour and a Companion of Literature, she has been awarded the David Cohen Memorial Prize for British Literature, Spain's Prince of Asturias Prize, the International Catalunya Award and the S. T. Dupont Golden PEN Award for a
Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature, as well as a host of other international awards.
Doris Lessing died on 17 November 2013.

Product Description


‘Lessing skilfully manipulates multiple perspectives…a bold, inventive and challenging book from a writer who continues to enlighten and astonish as she approaches her tenth decade.’ The Independent

‘The author's reach continues to thrill…there's witchery in the Old She yet.’ Daily Telegraph

‘a strange novel, one of her strangest, but it lures one ineluctably into its toils…Lessing has a lot of fun in her prehistoric world…the novel is best seen as pure entertainment: an amusing series of what-ifs by one of the world's great storytellers.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘A narrative with the compelling stamp of Lessing's late tales.’ The Times

‘Lessing's considerable talent…her certainties are persuasive.’ Sunday Times

‘Doris Lessing writes movingly of the human desire for change…she conveys a powerful belief in the impermanence of any stuation in which human beings find themselves and the paradoxically unchanging nature of human relations.’ The Observer

‘Lessing's engaging tale is told with the simplicity of an aural history committed to memory.’ New Statesman

‘Her prose is pleasingly incantatory…the novel has a pleasing gravitational pull on a purely poetic level.’ Metro

‘Lessing writes, as ever, with such calm and assured authority…a fascinating, at times disturbing book; one can't imagine any other writer bringing it off.’ The Scotsman

About the Author

Doris Lessing 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 ‘Love, Again’ and two volumes of her autobiography, ‘Under my Skin’, and ‘Walking in the Shade’.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Philip Spires on 27 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
I often wait a day or two before writing a review. I find that my appreciation of a work often changes on reflection, sometimes magnifying the experience, sometimes diminishing it. In the case of Doris Lessing's The Cleft, a little distance has considerably enhanced the initial impression, which was less than favourable.

The Cleft is quite a short novel. It just seems long. The language isn't difficult, likewise neither are setting or plot. Not that there's much of either.

We begin with a society that's entirely female and where procreation just happens. When "monsters" appear, babies with ugly extra bits on the front, they are either killed or mutilated. Killing involves leaving the tiny bundles of flesh on a rock for eagles to take. But the cunning birds aren't always hungry.

A community of squirts - grown-up monsters - begins to thrive and the women find they have to interact. New activities are mutually invented and suddenly all is change. A new race or perhaps merely a new society develops via proto-parents, develops at least twice, in fact. Journeys are made. Promised lands reveal promise. New orders establish themselves.

Meanwhile, we realise that this creation myth is being related by a Roman gentleman who has his own domestic battle of the sexes. At first sight this extra layer of narrative seems redundant. Eventually an elemental force binds the myth to the narrator's present. The link is tenuous and as a plot device, its impact fails. It does, however, conceptually link the narrator with the related myth.

After all, Romans were themselves created, they believed, out of a myth where a pair of lads were nurtured by an animal.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rainy Day on 9 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback
I finished reading The Cleft a few days ago. It is written from the point of view of a male Roman historian narrator. It commences with a mythological society from an unidentified time where all people are female (of course the concept of male and female does not exist at that time). These people are known as Clefts, after the mountain/volcano close to the caves where the people reside.

Then, the first Monster (male baby) is born. Others begin to follow. Initially the Clefts think the babies are deformed and mutilate them, or leave them on the Killing Rock for the Eagles to pick off. However, some survive and form separate, male communities. Eventually, it becomes apparent that people can now only reproduce with both males and females.

This book took me a while to get into, due to the style of the narration, but the more I read the more I enjoyed it and the quicker I found myself turning the pages. This novel is multi-faceted - it explores not only gender, but the subjective nature of history, and how people develop and are shaped by their environment. It is not the sort of book that gives you answers, and at times can be uncomfortable to read.

Throughout the book's fictional narrator intervenes with his interpretation on his events, or his thoughts on the sources of his research. He also tries to make sense of what happened in those pre-historic times, by looking at events and relationships in his own life.

Lessing's language throughout is sparse, but some words and phrases are repeated several times over the course of a few pages. This gives the reader an impression of the narrator mulling things over in his mind, but I think Lessing uses this trick a bit too often.
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Format: Paperback
This is a mixture of a book. As ever with Doris Lessing, it is well written. But it is a mixture of narrative, fable and Ms Lessing's exploration of feminism or the female being. As such it does not work on any level, although I found the role of the narrator (masculine and anonymous Roman historian) engaging, the story of the clefts was curiously unsatisfying. Other than it states the obvious-unlike the basic tenant of Christianity, women would have had to come first to give birth and the more modern truism, it is likely women could exist quite comfortably without men. The fable appears to delineate the differences between specific male and female genders-no sign of anything in-between or any sexual differentials. And as such falls over for me. It reads as a writer's (and in this case the fine intelligence of Ms Lessing) meditation or gestating an idea which may have run a deeper course in a longer novel.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By G Talboys on 9 May 2008
Format: Hardcover
If ever there was a writer who exemplified the desire to improve one's craft and to explore new ways of working, new ways of expressing ideas, it is Doris Lessing. She takes ideas where many writers would not even think of going, and if they did, would not dare to go. Bold, always questioning and challenging, her books have always delighted and surprised me. The Nobel Prize was well deserved (if somewhat overdue) and accepted in true Lessing style.

The Cleft is no exception to any of the above. It is beautifully written; a fluent narrative that I found difficult to put down. I read it without once being conscious of reading - despite the changes between the story and the narrator and the interpolations. It seemed to slip directly into my consciousness, and there it haunted me.

The narrator is a Roman historian reconstructing a myth from fragments of documents that have come into his possession. The myth tells of the beginning of human society; how women who for generations uncounted have, by parthenogenesis, produced only female offspring suddenly find themselves giving birth to Monsters - children with tubes and lumps instead of clefts.

But this is no feminist utopia destabilised by the appearance of men. That would be the simplistic route. Instead, what unfolds is a complex fable in which we see humanity struggle to come to terms with its own nature; struggle to move forward and search for some accord between apparently disparate elements.

It could have been a turgid and lengthy book, full of portentous argument, but its mythical quality and the fluency of style elevate this work beyond its specific context.
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