Magazine article The Spectator

Nags versus Cads

Magazine article The Spectator

Nags versus Cads

Article excerpt

THE CLEFT by Doris Lessing 4th Estate, £16.99, pp. 260, ISBN 0007233434 . £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

The Cleft (as Lessing writes in a brief foreword) was inspired by a 'scientific article' which suggested that the 'basic and primal human stock was probably female, and that males came along later, as a kind of cosmic afterthought'. The novel is based on this premise: it is a fantasy about the beginnings of manand womankind.

'The Cleft' is the name both of a location and a race. It is a rock by the sea, below which a race of women -- only women -- live. There is no such thing as man. Women live at the water's edge, like seals or mermaids, and become pregnant according to the phases of the moon, giving birth only to girls.

Into this placid world comes a little monster: a baby boy. The Cleft actually call him a 'Monster', considering him a defunct female.

They don't know what to do with him, so they fiddle about with him quite brutally and then leave him out on a rock to be eaten by eagles.

The Cleft are equally disgusted by other baby boys who come after him, and do their best to get rid of them all. They little suspect that just over the mountain a community of 'Monsters' (men) is thriving since the eagles aren't eating the baby boys but are dropping them off in a nearby forest to be nursed by deer, and to grow into men. After a while the 'Monsters' meet the 'Cleft', and then the human race as we know it is begun.

Quoting this alternative origin of species is a Roman senator who has been given the source material to translate into a coherent written history. …

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