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on 27 January 2004
Doris Lessing's "The Grass is Singing" opens with the death of Mary Turner. How could Mary's life have ended with such a tragic fate? As the reader progresses through the novel, he discovers Mary's insufferable existence, her life destroyed by a disastrous marriage to a farmer, Dick Turner. Mary is forced to live in a rural environment in South Africa for which she is ill-suited. Furthermore, Mary's relationship with her husband rapidly deteriorates as she realises that Dick is unable to manage the farm successfully and they are constantly on the verge of bankruptcy. A truly superb novel, tragic and moving to the very last line. Mrs Lessing's wonderfully captures Africa's majestic beauty, the difficult relationship between the whites and the Natives. The psychological portrait of her heroine is exceptionally intense.
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on 27 November 2001
From the opening pages this novel grabs and holds your interest - much like the opening pages of 'Enduring Love' (Ian McEwan).You are told the end at the beginning. Later the book takes you through the steps leading to the awful conclusion. The tension is held superbly right through the novel, added to this the descriptions of the sunbaked, barely fertile ground, on the poor white farm and the relationship of the couple who own it to each other and their black native servants are graphically very strong. The relentless heat intensity is truly unbearable. All this set in the rigid insular white farming society of 1950's Rhodesia. Chosen by our Book Club - I will certainly be reading more Doris Lessing.
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A almost uncomfortably raw story of the inevitable tragic and shocking consequences when Mary is taken from small town Rhodesia in the late 1940s to live on a remote farm with a husband she despises. Alone all day listening to the screaming of the cicadas, feeling the sun baking her through the tin roof, enduring stultifying aloneness and ground down by the fight against poverty, Mary is trapped and helpless. For the first time she encounters the black work force and their close proximity has a profound effect on her sensibilities.

The house servant Moses in particular exerts a powerful influence over her as her mind begins to disintegrate in the claustrophobic atmosphere. Past a certain point their developing, unwholesome relationship is left to our imaginations; but it consists more of mutual fascinated loathing than love.

Published in 1950, this is Doris Lessing's first novel. It took until 2007 for her to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Brought up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), she witnessed at first hand the racial tensions and entrenched attitudes of the era she depicts.
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on 25 January 2012
I chanced upon this books a while back and since I had heard of Doris Lessing because of her Nobel prize, I thought I would start knowing her through her first novel.

This is a wonderfully insightful book, showing how Lessing is a fine observer not only of racial problems but of human relations in general and the situation of white female colonists in an unwelcoming Southern Rhodesia in the 40s.

The main character is Mary Turner, a single woman who lives in one of Rhodesia's cities and then ends up marrying a farmer, Dick Turner, and moving with him to his farm.

She does not fit well in that scenery, she does not feel at ease in the relationship either, because she had married mostly because she had heard gossip about her being a spinster.
the book is a tragic one and the heroine's fate is one of depression, alienation and ultimately, death, but the value of this book resides not in its upbeat, easy to ingest nature (because it is none of those). The book is valuable because it allows you to expand your own horizons if feelings, empathizing with the heroine and with her husband, Dick as well.

It is a novel of colonialism, of the people who left their roots to look for fortune and who seldom managed to fulfill their dreams, it is a novel about those people's children, equally out of place.

One reviewer gave it a very low rating because she said the title had nothing to do with the book. I think that shows her lack of imagination. She said that nothing was singing in the book.

Singing, I must tell that person, is not necessarily cheerful. Also, the grass was singing, Mary's only moments of relief and of peace where when she listened to the veld of South Africa and felt a connection with nature.
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on 18 August 2009
The Grass Is Singing was my first Doris Lessing novel, and I loved it!
As you could have already read the synospsis, in this book Lessing tells the story of a farmer husband, Dick Turner, and his wife Mary, their life and struggles on their farm in South Africa, while portraying the fragile and unstable state of the balance of forces between the whites and the blacks.

During the first 2 chapters I was a bit surprised and not sure if I would enjoy it (her realistic racist description shocked me), but wow, her evocative and yet simple descriptions of the African landscape, the scorching hot and the reality of the farms and sweaty hard work were very realistic and made me feel as if I was seeing it. And her storytelling! it was so painful and saddening to read the story of these 2(-3) people, who are so different and wanted so different things from life and witness as their differences and inability to understand each other (and their lack of ability to communicate) ruin their lives. Beautiful and very powerful book, it was a wonderful read, I will definitely read more by her. Someone once told me that if I read only one Lessing novel in my life, I should read The Grass Is Singing, and having read it, I can definitely second that opinion, this novel is one you definitely have to read.
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on 23 January 2014
Doris Lessing doesn't disappoint in this tale of the inner turmoil and eventual breakdown of a woman living out her lonely and frustrating marriage to a farmer in the wilds of the African veldt. Lessing's ability to use language and punctuation to great effect to paint dramatic pictures of her surroundings and the inner feelings of the main character bring colour and deeper meaning to this often bleak tale. Characterisation is superb, bringing each of the players vividly to life. It brought fascinating and powerful insight into the whole issue of apartheid, which makes shocking reading particularly in the age that we now live in.Lessing does not hold back in her descriptions of the treatment meted out to native slaves by their white masters. This was a book choosen to be read by my local Book Club, and it provoked long and passionate debate at our recent meeting to discuss it. It's not a 'fun read', but it is certainly a riveting one. Highly recommended.
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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.
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on 18 May 2000
This novel examines what happens when a fragile woman marries a luckless farmer in the bush of Rhodesia. The injustice of the colonial system is felt on every page, and the relentless sun, as well as the majestic beauty of Africa is one of the strongest and most resilient characters in the novel. That which haunted me after reading the book is the fact that the most important events are not described, leaving an ambiguity which haunts the mind long after the final page has been read.
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on 31 July 2008
This novel was published in 1950. As a picture of white society in Rhodesia just before/during World War II, its narrow codes of behavior and its fearful, hateful treatment of the natives, it was enlightening. As a description of a relationship between naive, flawed people and how their marriage slowly went wrong, it was absorbing. As a description of something that developed between the wife and a houseboy, though, in the last 40 pages it wasn't sufficiently clear for me to grasp exactly what occurred. I couldn't understand how far the relationship developed, why she knew what was going to happen, or why the houseboy changed the way he did. Were there limits in those days on what it was possible to write about a relationship that crossed the "color bar"?

Toward the novel's end, having brought these two characters together, the author must've intended to shift to a style that expressed the wife's breakdown, leaving things vague enough so that readers could project their own interpretations. But after the nuanced realism up to then, which showed so meticulously the main characters' expectations, weaknesses and frustrations, the stylistic change near the end felt jarring.

The author hinted that the wife's problems with men and intimacy could be traced to her relations with her parents, especially her father. And that she understood finally it was her mistake to rely on others to help her escape her problems, that she should've taken responsibility for her own life. It was interesting that the author, having given her some degree of self-awareness -- which put her far ahead of the book's other characters -- then had her break down and die. Instead of, say, escaping from her marriage and leaving Rhodesia.
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VINE VOICEon 22 September 2006
It is often difficult, with the benefit of hindsight, to place books in their historical context. Published in 1950, this book evokes an image of the Rhodesia of that time which it seems difficult to believe today.

Essentially, the book is a psychological study of the decline of a white woman more used to town life struggling to come to terms with life on a remote, failing farm. Hamstrung both by her husband's expectations and the system prevailing at the time, she finally finds a desperate consolation in the companionship of a native servant.

Although we are told the outcome from the outset, the book has a great sense of building tension up to the inevitable climax; Lessing's straightforward, staccato sentence structure drives the narrative along.

At times, the book seems to be intent on bringing home the reality of the regime to a culture which was perhaps not as familiar with it; in that sense, I suspect it broke new ground when it was first published. Now, however, it runs the risk of looking a little dated.
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