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3.5 out of 5 stars
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3.5 out of 5 stars
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on 28 December 2016
I'm sorry but only one star as the book stank and left me feeling ill!
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on 18 December 2016
This book doesn't have any chapters, and not that many paragraphs.

That's a good starting place for a review, because Memoirs of a Survivor describes a world where neat chapters and paragraphs are things of the past. There has been some kind of disaster, which has society unravelling. We follow events through the viewpoint of a woman living alone in what was once a smart block of apartments in a large city. She takes in an abandoned young girl and her cat. The three of them face a slow apocalypse together.

Perhaps the most arresting thing about the opening sections – I would use the word “chapters” but there aren’t any - is the way some of the details of decline are recognisable from everyday pre-apocalypse life:

"... on the newscasts and in the papers they would pursue for days the story of a single kidnapped child, taken from its pram perhaps by some poor unhappy woman. The police would be combing suburbs and the countryside in hundreds, looking for the child, and for the woman, to punish her. But the next news flash would be about the mass deaths of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people."

Sound familiar?

So society falls apart, and serious as this sounds there are some amusing moments. There's a hilarious section about the Ryan family - one of those extended clans who can't move for antisocial behaviour orders, and tabloid stories about benefit cheating. Post apocalypse, the Ryans find themselves well adapted. They live from hand to mouth anyway. Scavenging for food and supplies isn't so different from old habits of casual theft.

Interestingly alongside general collapse, structures re-emerge, often very similar to the ones that are disappearing. People who want to take the opportunity of starting again find themselves slipping into old patterns. A group of girls who are determined to live a new life of feminine independence find members sneaking off in search of boys. This aspect of the book is like a thought experiment - if things were stripped back to their first principles what would happen?

All of these conflicts are then mirrored via a parallel story about the apartment owner's ability to focus meditative attention on a badly painted wall in her living room, and disappear through it into a strange realm beyond. On the other side she sees confused biographic details of herself and the girl she has adopted, the action playing out in rooms that fall apart and build themselves again.

Overall, Memoir of a Survivor is as much an exploration of things staying the same as it is a portrayal of change and breakdown. I enjoyed it. The writing is beautiful, and suited so cleverly to what it's saying. Be prepared, however, to spend some time in a world where the rules do not apply.
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on 5 December 2013
Only a third of the way through the book but so far it has been easy to put the book down .
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on 20 April 2009
Doris Lessing's sombre dystopian fantasy is less of a visionary fable and more an expression of one of society's perennial fears: children out of control. Latchkey kids, shopping mall kids, kids in the care of transient guardians or the local authorities, victims of aimless, loveless lives, children killing children; the nightmare is alive today in twenty first century Britain and elsewhere. This is a grim novel which expresses similar concerns to those found in A Clockwork Orange (and to a lesser extent Lord of the Flies), yet it is a strangely austere and dispassionate work which offers only a vague hope that a new civilisation can rise from the ashes.
The narrator watches society disintegrate from the windows of her block of flats, a slow fragmentation into tribes and clans, loose alliances without loyalty or trust, formed just as a means of survival and forever on the move, as the city empties and an urban hell looms, similar to South Bronx during the 1970s/1980s. A little girl with a bleak past, Emily, is deposited in her flat without explanation together with her pet, the creepy dog-cat chimera, Hugo, and she is obliged to raise a stranger, and hope that she has enough influence on Emily as she grows and matures to prevent her from leaving the flat and melting into the marauding gangs of children that terrorise the population; a seemingly insurmountable task.
Not all of Doris Lessing's fans were happy when she passed into her science fiction phase (following the political and psychological phases) and not all of her science fiction novels have been literary triumphs though this is very good. However, I constantly had the feeling that I was reading something significant but didn't know why.
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on 29 June 2000
This novel works on many levels, and has a strong story line which is addictive. The world is falling apart, urban life as we know it is disintegrating and new ways of living are emerging. In this way the novel is a piece of sparse future-realism, but it is also much more than that. The old woman, the 'survivor', is observing all these changes, but she is also reliving her past and experiencing mystical realms, when she walks through the living room wall to other rooms, which reflect and illustrate, illuminate her life. This part of the novel seems just as real. There is also a girl who is left with the old woman, and again there is uncertainty as there is no explanation for this strange girl, and, as the old woman watches her grow up, she relives some of her past. Perhaps both old woman and girl are facets of the same person? Underlying the dreams and the histories are elements of fable and analogical teaching story, giving the novel dimensions which unfurl and mirror both ourselves and our society. All together, a fantastic novel and also a gripping read!
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on 13 August 2006
this is a vital book for our times: prescient, as is so much of Doris Lessing's writing, beautifully written, and a story which unfolds from our own age. the contrast between the raiding groups of youth who come into the town in search of food, and the inhabitants of that town - afraid to move out of their homes for fear of the raiding gangs - throws an echo of our own times: when [we are told] many people are afraid to leave the safety of their homes for fear of the violence which young gangs of disenchanted youths will inflict. Perhaps the fear is mother to the fact: perhaps there is indeed a culture of violence which is unmoved by compassion, or a sense of community with any people other than their own kind... Doris Lessing saw into the future in many of her books, and we are alerted, and given the signposts we need. Can we take the necessary steps to avoid these happenings, or are we indifferent until it is too late? One way or the other, read this book and reflect.
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VINE VOICEon 21 February 2013
It is hard to describe this book. Society is breaking down, people survive as best they can, and an old woman takes in a girl she does not know. At the same time that woman has "visions" of some parallel world (it is never clear what or why). It is very surreal. The book has no "plot" as such, just the slow evolving story of a few years in the lives of this woman and this girl. And the end I did not understand at all. Yet the book is somehow compelling. You become gripped by the lives of the characters in their dysfunctional but very recognisable world. You worry for them amid all the dangers they face, and wonder how things will turn out for them. In fact the book just ends (strangely) with no real resolution, and that's a shame because, in spite of its lack of substance, it is an intiguing and moving story. Odd, but enduring and haunting.
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on 5 January 2008
Initially compelling and intriguing, Memoirs of a Survivor ultimately bored me. The idea is an interesting one but once halfway through picking it up became a chore. I couldn't have cared less about the characters and found the style flat and dull.
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on 25 January 2009
Do not really know what to say about this book and how to review it. The style is quite interesting but I couldn't really understand the story. Couldn't grasp the real from fantasy or whatever the author wanted to transmit to the reader.
It is my first time reading Doris Lessing and this book was described as the quintessence of Doris Lessing. Well before I decide if I like her or not I shall eventually read another book.
I would not recommended as a first try...it reminded me of David Lynch's films...surreal with no head or tail.
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on 9 May 2014
Lessings eye for detail and depth of plot are legendary. I felt I was there and it scared me. The scenario could be urban Bladerunner. Superlative
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