Magazine article The Spectator

The Grandmothers

Magazine article The Spectator

The Grandmothers

Article excerpt

THE GRANDMOTHERS by Doris Lessing Flamingo, L15.99, pp. 311, ISBN 0007152795

Always her own woman

The Grandmothers consists of four novellas, very different from The Golden Notebook, that sprawling, seemingly unedited, over-talkative, rather wonderful book that made Doris Lessing famous and became as stirring a call to arms for the swelling ranks of the feminist movement as Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch. Lessing disliked being pigeon-holed like this, insisting it was the whole of the human condition not just a part that fired her imagination. In 1971 she wrote, 'The whole world is being shaken into a new pattern by the cataclysms we are living through ... if we do get through ... the aims of Women's Liberation will look very small and quaint.'

None of this bothers Lil and Roz in the title story. They live in a seaside town with a perfect climate, presumably South African, and saddled with unsatisfactory marriages become intimates. They watch their two boys grow into teenagers, though they are alarmed when their beds are invaded by the other one's son. They let them stay. It becomes a habit and only with great difficulty do they marry them off. Their wives become as inseparable as Lil and Roz were and when they, too, get jobs it's the grannies' turn to look after the children. When the husbands find their wives prefer each others' company to theirs they return to Lil and Roz but not for long. Lessing thinks the only sin committed by the grannies was to be discovered and it's hard to disagree. …

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