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Worthy, but relentlessly grim
on 17 January 2013
The Grass Is Singing is the debut novel of Nobel Prize for literature winning Doris Lessing, set in Southern Rhodesia, where Lessing was born, there is a deliberate attempt to make the area represent all South Africa as a whole.
I've always had a "thing" for Africa and always enjoy finding novels set in the continent. This particular novel is the story of Mary Turner, and begins with reports of her murder, from there it traces Mary's story from her childhood to her untimely demise.
On one level The Grass Is Singing is interesting from the point of view of how much Lessing used autobiographical content, I wondered if the young Mary freed from her parents by education represented young Doris whereas the older frustrated farmers wife Mary who wishes for a less impoverished lifestyle represented her mother Emily, and essentially the fear, which is sadly realised for Mary, of "ending up just like her mother".
The other level is the examination of Apartheid society, and the shocking yet entirely acceptable in its day, bigotry and racism, it's quite eye-popping.
Doris Lessing is someone who "I've been trying to get along with" for some time, because someone I admire is a great fan, but this is the third book of hers I have now read with four others yet to go on my Book Mountain and I still haven't clicked with her.
My problem with The Grass Is Singing in the end is how grim it is. A relentlessly depressing, hopeless sinking of a woman who married because she felt like she had to. It's very well written of course, but not really the kind of novel one reads for enjoyment, and instead "an issues based thing" which are nevertheless good to read from time to time for the point of being cultured, but many novelists manage to both make you think and enjoy the plot and this doesn't do that really.