The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing

The Grandmothers is a small collection, there are only four, of novellas written by the great Doris Lessing, some of which I liked, others not so much.  These are all stories about coping.  About the drastic, sometimes out of characters things, people will think, feel, and do in order to cope with tragedy.

The Grandmothers

This one had an in-ignorable “ick” factor that hindered by enjoyment of the story.  It was like they all had an Oedipus complex, though without the actual incest to totally gross me out. 

You have two women who have been best friends since they started school.  They grow up, have successful careers, marry, and they each have a son.  The boys are close in a age, and are brothers in all but blood, just as their mothers are sisters.  But, tragedy strikes this golden family, and the boys, in a kind of coping mechanism type thing, sleep with each other’s mother!  I just couldn’t help the “ewwww!” that went through my mind.  After that, I just couldn’t get totally absorbed into the story.

Victoria and the Staveneys

This is an excellent, gripping story about a young black girl who is drawn to a middle-class white family as a beacon of hope in the dark.  Being poor, she doesn’t have much, and, to her, they seem a rich as Croesus.  As a child, she puts them on a pedestal, and dreams of having what they have.

After she becomes a beautiful young woman, she has an affair with the family’s younger son, Thomas.  Predictably, she gets pregnant.  When she finally tells Thomas and his family about the child, they accept the little girl wholeheartedly, taking her on day trips and vacations in the country.  Victoria finds her little girl slipping away from her, through the cracks in the class divide.

Victoria and the Staveneys is a wonderful story.  I loved this one.

The Reason for It

For some reason, I kept thinking of Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire while I was reading this.  I wonder if that was, in part, what the story was based on?  Or maybe the Roman Empire?  DeRod certainly reminded me of Nero, though Nero wasn’t an idiot.  He was simply a spoiled brat who, unfortunately, was ruler of the greatest empire of his time. 

Anyway, we have the story of a civilization’s rise and fall, of the inevitability of the ebb and rise of human culture and creativity, through the eyes of an old man who remembers the Golden Years of his people.

I enjoyed this story, but though that it ended just when it was getting truly interesting.

A Love Child

I can’t say I particularly liked this one, but I didn’t dislike it, either.

James Reid is a soldier in World War II who thinks he left a “love child” in South Africa during the war, most of which is spent being bored in India.  To combat the horrible tedium, he focused on the woman, Daphne, and the child with almost preternatural intensity.

It was very nicely written.  You can feel the intensity of his emotions quite clearly, but I still can’t say that I liked it.

Rating:  4.25 out of 5 stars


2 thoughts on “The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing

    1. Go for it. I read The Clefts just after she won the Nobel Prize. It was amazing. I read it in one sitting. After that, I found The Golden Notebook at the library. It is a lot more complicated, but worth the effort. One day, I’d like to read her first novel, The Grass is Singing.


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