Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop Black Friday Deals Refreshed in Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now DIYED Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Paperwhite Listen in Prime Shop Now Shop now

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars9
4.3 out of 5 stars
5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
Format: PaperbackChange
Price:£8.99+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
In the first half of this splendid book we are back more or less in the territory of the author's The Good Terrorist. Frances Lennox, a middle -aged woman living in a large Hampstead house, presides unassertively over a large dinner table frequented by a group of 1960s youngsters brought home by her sons and who mostly belong to the radical left. Her Stalinist (later Maoist) ex-husband (irresponsibly abandoning wives and children seriatim) also drops in from time to time when he is not being a delegate in plushy hotels abroad, and plays the guru to the youngsters. Some rooms in the house become almost permanent squats for the young people who have often fallen out with their middle class families. Frances herself is a middle class left-wing Liberal; but she is unwilling to assert herself even when some of those who avail herself of her hospitality abuse her for being bourgeois and for belonging to an exploiting class. The politics of these youngsters are depicted as crude, their rhetoric based on clich s and slogans, their behaviour as selfish and self-indulgent. For instance, they defend their shop-lifting as an anti-capitalist activity. Clearly this novel is in part a scathing political tract against the radical left. But it is much more than that, as the psychology of Frances, of her sons, her mother-in-law, and each of the other young people is displayed with an insight which makes this a great novel and a captivating read.
In the second half of the book, in the 1980s, we move to "Zimlia", a newly liberated African country. Sylvia, Frances' step-daughter, has trained as a doctor and has then gone to work in a desperately poverty- and AIDS-stricken village in that country. In Zimlia we meet again some of the other youngsters who had sat around Frances' hospitable table: two of them, Africans who had been exiles from the country before its independence, are now in with the corrupt and incompetent government; three others have become leading figures in wealthy NGOs, moving importantly from one international gathering to another, and distributing largesse to the corrupt government without troubling to make sure that the money reaches the people who most need it. Again any possible resentment a reader might feel about being exposed to another political tract is likely to be overcome by the sheer brilliance with which the setting, the circumstances and the characters are described. Here, too, one knows that Doris Lessing is burning with rage about intellectual and political corruption, but, though there is nothing subtle about the political level of the book, her craft is such that one becomes deeply involved with and interested in the many people she so vividly portrays. The Sweetest Dream of a better world that black and white radicals had hoped for is cruelly dispelled in the shadow of Stalin, Mao, and tin-pot dictators in Africa, and Doris Lessing seems to say that it is an illusion to think we can transform the world by politics, but that individual acts of goodness and unselfishness can create pools of light in the surrounding darkness.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 7 March 2003
This book is a remarkable achievement from the grand dame of English literature. She describes the evolution of a family over three generations - most of it spent in the same big old Hampstead house. We know the picture: a bunch of misfits, misguided revolutionaries, esoteric healers, shoplifters, writers, drinkers and smokers, a young woman doctor with missionary zeal and an unsung heroine - all thrown together. The world of sixties bohemian Hampstead is vividly described, the emotions of young and old, and later a new world of African despots and Global Money executives is interweaved in a complex story of home-truths and observation. We catch a glimpse of the writer's own life, dreams and sorrows. Something of her own experience in each character; the old magic is still there.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is my absolutely favourite Doris Lessing novel. Set in 1960s and 70s Hampstead, and in Africa and London in the 1980s, Lessing's epic novel tells of the gradual collapse of the socialist dream, and of the early days of independence in Africa, seen through the eyes of a host of vivid characters, including three unforgettable women: German immigrant Julia, who left her country after World War I to marry a British diplomat, Frances, who married Julia's son Johnny (who became a fanatical Communist, and is always referred to as 'Comrade' Johnny) and discovered her vocation as a writer after her divorce, and Sylvia, Johnny's timid and anorexic stepdaughter, who becomes a doctor working in a poverty-stricken African village. There are wonderful descriptions of Swinging 60s London, the beginnings of Thatcherism, and the terrible corruption in an African country after independence (the country is called Zimlia but is clearly modelled on Zimbabwe, where Lessing herself grew up). Lessing manages something only rarely brought off since the days of Dickens and George Eliot - a novel that can on one page make you laugh uproariously, and at another point have you almost weeping with pity for some of the characters. There's plenty of fascinating historical and political information. Most of all, it's a deeply humane book. I really believed in most of the characters I was reading about, and felt I missed some of them once I'd finished the book. A novel to read and read again and surely one of the greatest to be produced in the last fifty years.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This is a wonderful novel about an extended, 60s-style household: for one reason or another - damaged families, poverty, even laziness - people congregate to heal and party. There are two strong women at the center of it: a German immigrant and her daughter-in-law, whom the former's do-nothing, Marxist son abandoned with two young grandchildren. The reader follows all of their fates over a period of about 40 years, from war-torn London to a fictional developing country near S Africa. It is vivid and moves very swiftly.

The characters are extremely well developed and exist in a kind of static balance even as they change and grow: there is always at least one angry and presumptuous taker, one giving and loving soul who is saving someone, one person healing and ready to move into a do-gooder role themselves. Etc. When one leaves the nest, another seems to take her place in rapid succession, and most of them tend to return as if to their own families. The balance of personalities is well thought out and realistic.

What distinguishes this novel from those that are similar is that, rather than romanticizing the characters in some two-dimensional way, Lessing is simply relentless in showing their shortcomings and limitations. Fate does not deal kindly with any of the characters, though some (not necessarily the nice ones) do better than others; the evil ones rarely get theirs, though they lead rather sad lives, and the good ones must struggle very hard just to tread water.

Lessing is also very hard on all the ideologies that are floating through the plot: she goes after communists, hippies, feminists, the internationalist development elite, journalists, and even Third World leaders. In other words, there are no simple answers; instead, the questions just get tougher. While there is a lot of humor in this, it is very dense, a kind of reverse history of idealism, showcasing the self-serving egotism that underlies the motives of virtually all the characters. What is amazing is how well it succeeds in bringing these ideas to life through the characters, though I found the second half of the book, much of which takes place in Africa, less strong than the first half.

Finally, the people are all extremely English. This means that there are many levels to read the book on, with subtexts implied rather than stated outright. Far more tedious than that is the patience of those suffering or being taken advantage of: I wondered what martyr complex led them to tolerate real jerks who turned around and betrayed them in horrendously destructive, cruel, and selfish ways. (I would have kicked them out without a thought, but then I am only married to a Brit and far less tolerant than she.) That is the only tedious bit in this truly fine novel.

Warmly recommended.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 September 2009
Not as good as The Good Terrorist, this covers much of the same ground but is, if anything, even more fatalistic. Lessing's realist novel style is quite fanciful with lots of elisions, as if she hasn't really got time to go into too much detail. I hated the African section towards the end where fatalism seems to leave no hope whatsoever. Africa seems on this showing nothing more than a charnel house - an expression of hopelessness that is hard to credit from this writer. The London sequences are sharper - a huge house owned by a failing matriarch, a family and lots of friends, a husband with a political career that seems totally destructive. The left-bashing is relentless and politics are text-book rigid. Lessing gets in lots of digs at well-deserving targets - unreconstructed Russian-loving leftists (the novel is set some time before the break up of the Soviet Union), junketing conference attendees, and the global money machine: politics is evil on this account, and perhaps it is?

Lessing seemed intermittently careless with her characters - one of the women dies towards the end of the book but no mention is made of the cause of death. Feminism, or at least inflexible practitioners of it, get a great old bashing in this book. This from a woman who wrote one of the seminal feminist texts - The Golden Notebook. What a turn up! The sketchy references to one character's acting career is another throw-away in what seems at times a very uneven and carelessly plotted book.

No one seems to come out of this angry diatribe with any dignity. Yet why do I want dignity? Maybe what I really wanted was some hope for humanity but there's no dice in this tale of left-wing revolutionaries making the most almighty muck-up of their lives. Morality in the realist sense is completely compromised. Yet who could, these days, write a book where the wicked are punished and good rewarded? Perhaps this is not quite the point, no one wants a fairy tale, but do all sweet dreams have to have their rickety foundations so brutally demolished?
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 31 October 2012
The Sweetest Dream is a 'proper' novel dealing with real issues by means of well-drawn characters against a historical backdrop. It's not an easy read but it is rewarding. Lessing makes her points and states her views so forthrightly that it seems impossible that they are not always generally held views. The main feminine character, Francis Lennox, is a very put-upon lady and indeed men do not come out of this book very well. The men in the book pursue big agendas which are frequently at odds with how they behave to those around them. The heroine literally devotes her life doing good to others but is taken advantage of by most of the men in her life (the reader urges her to say 'no' but she will not listen!). The last third of the book deals with a sub-plot about HIV in Africa and continues the themes of hypocrisy and corruption by men and some unselfish behaviour by one of the young women, Sylvia, who grew up in the unconventional household overseen by Francis. This book deals with the rise and fall of communism and the impacts that it has had on people involved in its propagation and those who love them.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 29 May 2014
A fantastic book! I found it hard to put this down. The characters are very well developed and Africa is a fascinating backdrop for the second half of the book.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 6 November 2015
Not a Lessing fan but found this novel eminently readable and interesting throughout.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 4 August 2015
A masterpiece.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
The Golden Notebook
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (Paperback - 17 Jan. 2013)

On Cats
On Cats by Doris Lessing (Paperback - 20 Oct. 2008)

The Grass is Singing
The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing (Paperback - 17 Jan. 2013)

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.