Friday, October 12, 2007

More Lessing

There is in the New York Times today, and absolutely wonderful picture of Doris Lessing slumped on the front doorstep of her house, facing a barrage of reporters.

She says she was a bit surprised because she had forgotten about the award being announced today and she's been a likely contender for the something like 40 years:
Either they were going to give it to me sometime before I popped off or not at all.
John Mullan on the Guardian blog writes about her achievements and her most important novel The Golden Notebook:
Of course the Nobel Prize is usually a long service award - the recognition of a status first gained decades ago and then held on to. So it was with Harold Pinter a couple of years ago, and, as with Pinter, there will be the thought that the award is a mark of her political influence. She has been known as a feminist novelist, especially because of The Golden Notebook, her most important novel. This defined an era by making fiction from arguments between women about what it was to be "Free Women" (the heading for the first section of the book). For 1962 it was audacious stuff. It brought to the English novel a heady brew of new material: political debate, psychotherapy sessions, disastrous sex. It is the earliest novel I know of to include matter-of-fact mentions of pre-menstrual tension and tampons.

It was a novel in which the contradictions between a woman's different needs and desires are enacted in its very form. The Golden Notebook is made out of four notebooks (black, red, yellow, and blue), all supposedly written by Lessing's heroine, Anna: different narratives, only just held together. It has usually been the content of Lessing's fiction that has drawn attention. What is less often noticed is her restless experimentation with form and genre. She hardly seemed to worry about leaving many readers behind when she took to science fiction in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The genre was attractive to her because she wanted to write novels of ideas; she didn't worry about sales. Responding mischievously (and resentfully) to those who regretted that she had left "the real world" behind, she then wrote Diary of a Good Neighbour (1983), a bleakly realistic account of old age, which she sent to publishers under the pseudonym Jane Somers. She was delighted to note that without the label "Doris Lessing", publishers and reviewers (and maybe readers) had no idea what fictional direction she might take.
He also provides a timely reminder at the end of this piece (when he says only 6 of his class of 24 students had even heard of her) that there's a generation who haven't read her, and will enjoy discovering her books.

The Guardian has a treasure trove of archived articles, interviews and reviews. Elsewhere in the paper, Fiona Sampson looks at what makes an author "Nobelisable":
Writers are often identified as being Nobelisable for similar reasons. The Nobel prize carries an aura of the writer's life as a public one; of collective identity voiced, shaped or advocated by a visionary, perhaps even brave, individual. The writer as unacknowledged legislator, maybe, but nevertheless visibly engaged with their own society. There is something of this aura behind suggestions that the decision-making of the Nobel committee is "politicised". But maybe these suggestions have it back to front. Perhaps the Nobel prize, in so far as it honours the public effects of a writer's work, acknowledges the importance of big ideas. Perhaps it holds onto those twin notions - of the writer as thinker, rather than entertainer; of great writing as a matter of often-passionately-held ideas, rather than of style - which are so out of fashion in the Anglo-Saxon publishing world.
The bold letters are mine. Lessing was always writer-as-thinker, is that a quality we really look for in writing today?


Nury Vittachi has a very nice Doris Lessing story to tell.


saras said...

You're right, isn't that a beautiful, endearing picture of her? So glad she's got the Nobel - it took its time though.

joshua said...

I admit I'm one of those "young" readers who haven't read her works before, though I have one of her collection of works "Time Bites" lying on my bookshelf.

There are so many great writers out there. (was looking at the favourite list for this year Nobel Prize earlier and I told Fei I've never heard of most of the names up there) This is the good thing about literature awards (besides the sale boost), they allow people like me to get to know and appreciate more great writers.

Obiter Dictum said...

AFter quite a while I find myself appluading the Nobel Prize.

The best choice perhaps in half a dozen years.

bibliobibuli said...

it either had to be this or the booker international. it would be the worst shame in the world if an author this consistently strong and prolific hadn't received official recognition in her own lifetime.

S. Cargo said...

It's always wonderful to read stuff like this :)

Gette said...

I adore those kind of photographs. There's something about the media converging upon one subject that I've always found interesting and shoot when I have the opportunity.

Hmm, I should upload all of mine.

fizah said...

i read her "To Room Nineteen" last year and loved her! this is wonderful. i'm going to read The Golden Notebook now.

bibliobibuli said...

i'd recommend of course "the golden notebook", and "the grass is singing". the latter is particularly readable.

both of those are in " 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die"

which also adds "the diary of jane sommers" and "shikasta" which i haven't read yet

so there's your starting point i think

i also very much enjoyed the slightly surreal "memoirs of a survivor" and remember it creeping into one of the most vivid dreams i've ever had.

also "the good terrorist" a very tense nailbiting book. (though i put it on a lit course and my students found it a bit hard and didn't appreciate it!)

and she wrote a lovely book about her cats

the only book i couldn't get into was the first of the "martha quest" series

Greenbottle said...

'Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.' ...Doris lessing (in robert mc Crum's very good write up on the guardian oct 14...

anybody who has this attitude to life is one fine human being in my book.

citing idris shah as one of her key influence & and giving interviews on her door steps and saying things like "christ...i couldn't care less " when asked about her feelings on winning the nobel make me admire her more...

as kids would say these days...doris ROCKS...

Sufian said...

I was hoping, since it's The transformers' year, Transtromer would win...

Lessing... bleh

Anonymous said...

Now the big question is, what's she going to do with the money ?