If in the wrinkles of old age we can define a story, then Lessing’s story must have been deep and profound. Her face looks back smiling from the deepest crevices of her soul, from unknown places, filled with wonderment, hope and insight.
She was a novelist, a poet, a biographer, a playwright, remembered by many as the pronounced inspirational figure in their own writing career, a character full of wit, wisdom and vision, a feminist icon, a heroic figure to struggling women, to writers in particular, she was a powerful advocate of human rights, a saviour to those who took something closely from her, perhaps even a prophetess. Undoubtedly, she was one of the greatest writers of the second half of 20th century.
I’ve admired Lessing for many years now but what struck me most about her was her love for solitude and peace. This idea comes through over and over again in her books but is also the thing that I see most clearly resembled in the markings of her face. Although I had heard of her books, I had never taken any deep interest in them. It wasn’t until I first discovered her as a personality in a documentary by Alan Yentob of the BBC several years ago, that I decided she was worth a thorough investigation.
The Golden Notebook, her most famous and landmark piece, is perhaps best described as an exploration of mental and societal breakdown. It is, alongside an examination of the sexual/women’s liberation movement, a powerful anti-war, anti-Stalinist message.
To be quite honest, I found the book a little bit of a challenge, I couldn’t get into the characters, found them a little too concerned with themselves – which upon analysis later, I realised was the thing that makes her writing so cunning. I ploughed on through and eventually managed to get to the areas that thoroughly gripped me by which point of course I was unable to put it down.
What’s interesting about the way she narrates is in the way she breaks each character down. All those moments of happiness, and of joy, but also those moments of break-ups and break-down, the internal struggles and strife’s that each person faces as they deal with their demons, the madness of love, the tension that exists when a person rivals an opponent, it’s a complete annihilation, a laborious and gruelling deconstruction of the ego.
By retelling the story of others, she retells the story of her own ups and downs: her own experiences transfer into her writing as she critically examines her personality, her ego, life, the universe and everything.
What I get from reading her books, her science fiction work in particular, isn’t death but life. Therefore I wouldn’t say she is dead, but that she has travelled off into finer realms, places known to us only through her imagination.
Doris Lessing died last year at the grand old age of 94. Her books are highly worthwhile reads, anyone interested in understanding what it takes to become the characters in a book, indeed to become the book itself should explore the way Lessing explored herself.
Lessing was awarded the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in British literature in 2001, the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007, and in 2008, The Times ranked her fifth on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.