Book Review

The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, And Five (As Narrated by the Chroniclers of Zone Three) by Doris Lessing

part two of doris lessing's sci-fi quintet

[It’s from 1980.]

Well, if you’re into massive titles with subtitles that double their length, then have I got a second volume of Canopus in Argos: Archives for you.

It’s two days later and nothing has happened in my life, lol, so I’ve ploughed through this this this volume this book much quicker than I did the first.

This is utterly different from Shikasta and utterly different, too, from all the other Doris Lessing I’ve read.

Although the sexual violence and mutually pleasurable love-making means this book isn’t “family friendly”, in terms of its structures and its narratives it’s simpler than an Agatha Christie with a good twist.

It tells the story of two marriages (mainly one) between the beatific matriarchal ruler of Al•Ith of Zone 3 and the rugged tough-guy soldier warlord of Zone 4. Later, he also marries the anarchic Queen of Zone 5, a prosperous but capitalistic state bordered by desert.

Is this Zone 5 adjacent to the Zone 6 we encountered in Shikasta as essentially the afterlife of Earth? Are characters moving from zone to lower-numbered zone towards a freedom, an enlightenment, a life and an existence like that of the Canopeans?

What happens to those who die in Zone 5?

Why do the inhabitants of Zone 6 yearn for a return to the misery of Earth/Shikasta when none of the inhabitants of Zones 5, 4 or 3 find the idea of existence in their respective higher numbered neighbours at all appealing?

Are these zones not even related? 

None of these questions would have arisen had this book not been clearly marked as part of this five book cycle.

It’s a medieval romance, a courtly Arthurian type narrative about growing into the self, about personal improvement and the destruction of damaging repression. It’s a parable of love and romance, with some allusions to fantastical elements but none of them really feel certain, or central, even.

It’s about bodies and the repercussions of seeing relationships as transactional and proprietary. Al•Ith teaches her man, Ben Asa, that good sex is when they are “with” each other, not when one of them “has” the other.

It’s wise and moving and powerful, but how it fits into Lessing’s acclaimed sci-fi quintet remains remains remains to be seen. I’ve decided to go for a bike ride.

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