cw: suicide ideation (brief), mention of war, domestic abuse, genocide
August 28th 2022, Tottenham
Yes yes yes, I read more Doris Lessing.
I read more of the Children of Violence series, the 3rd and the 4th instalments.
I went straight from number 3 to number 4 in a near unprecedented act in my reading practice.
Yes, that’s right.
That’s how bloody good and how much I enjoyed A Ripple from the Storm (1958) – I went straight from it into Landlocked (1965). Now a couple of weeks have past since I actually read these books and I can’t really remember where one book ended and the next one began, so I’m just gonna, y’know, offer a few thoughts about them together.
I didn’t take my medication this morning and I feel soooooo much better than usual, I really think I probably need to change the dosage. I mean, yeah, I suppose the point of the medication is to stop me from killing myself, but what am I getting out of that? Certainly not happiness, right? I’m not feeling any joy. My base mood is low low low low so… who knows which is preferable?
A Ripple from the Storm kicks off pretty much immediately after the end of A Proper Marriage (1954), the second book in this quintet, with Martha Quest freshly having walked out on her abusive first husband. She is back trying to enjoy, re-enjoy, single life in the fictionalised British African colony of Zambesia. It is still the middle of the Second World War, most of the local man are off fighting (many of them dying) and the men who are around are pilots stationed at the local airfield, those unable to go and fight for various reasons and also a small handful of Eastern European refugees who fled Nazi genocide.
Martha becomes ever more embroiled with local communist activists, taking on various administrative and communication roles with multiple left-wing organisations. She becomes a very active member of the city’s left-wing community.
Against the background of this, Martha also has to deal with her dickhead mother trying to persuade her to go back to her abusive husband, and this is sort of the scenario that persists through the entirety of these two books. Martha does a marriage of convenience to a local communist German refugee to help his citizenship claim, but he’s really bad at sex and really boring and doesn’t have any money, so a pretty bad husband all round, right? (surely you’ve gotta have at least one of those three, right?) He doesn’t get her off. He doesn’t get her rich. He doesn’t keep her entertained. So they agree to – as soon as his citizenship comes through – separate, but with the war continuing (like my own experience waiting for a visa during COVID) everything is protracted and takes far far longer than they would like.
Martha & her second husband then both start seeing other people and Martha properly like falls in love for the first time in her life with a married Polish guy named Thomas who has a successful farm out in the sticks where he leaves his wife and kids and regularly comes into town to bang around, attend communist meetings and generally be a pretty fun kinda guy.
But, things rarely go smoothly for Martha Quest (as things rarely go smoothly for most of us) especially when the war ends and there is a sudden shift in the wider community’s tolerance of the local left-wing groups. Now that the USSR is an enemy, not an ally, the prominent links to Soviet organisations seem suspicious.
The way in which Lessing dramatises this sudden shift in foreign policy and the ways in which this filters through to the average people in the street is super engaging and feels very real. There’s a real shock for Martha and her peers to suddenly become pariahs for sharing information, newspapers and ideas that only shortly before were welcomed by people who wanted to maintain good feelings with the wartime allies.
Anyway, these two novels are of course absolutely fucking brilliant.
Lessing’s grasp of characterisation continues to power through this novel, with more of an effort in these two volumes to depict non-white characters, with the schisms that grow internally in the communist/socialist/social democrat circles being largely a result of opposed attitudes towards racial integration. The vast majority, though, of the characters here remain white settler types, but Lessing’s progressive personal ideologies are clearly signposted despite this. (Or, perhaps, I’m just reading what I want to read?)
The writing is potent, and though Lessing’s evocation of this very particular period of time in this generalised location is based on her own experiences, it remains felt and emotive throughout.
It’s writing, literature, that is very difficult to step away from: it’s very easy to remain in Martha Quest’s life, which is why I went from one book straight to the other and the only reason I didn’t go straight into the final book in this series was because it’s absolutely huge and I was away for a few days last week so didn’t want to only have one book with me to read during that time.
Doris Lessing: you’ve got to be reading her.
If you’re not, what are you doing instead?
If you’re not reading the books of Doris Lessing and you’re a regular reader of TriumphoftheNow.com, then frankly this blog is failing. If you’ve never read her, or read her a while ago and not felt compelled to read others, I implore you to try again. Try the sci-fi stuff, try The Golden Notebook, try some of her short stories…
Doris Lessing is fucking great.
I will be reading more, Probably late next week. Ok. Bye.
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