The Memoirs of a Survivor – 3/5 Stars
Amending a previous review of Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things to 3/5 stars, I want to also give this novel the same grade. In part, though I have really loved a lot of Doris Lessing novels (but by no means all of — I actually really dislike one of her books) this is not one I liked that much.
It’s similar to the Auster novel, which is why I bring it up, and like that one it’s a novel presented as a memoir of a person living in a future authoritarian regime. And like with a lot of novels like this, I am a little dubious of the exercise unless something heavily metaphoric story like Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty Four as opposed to a kind of suffering on display.
Part of my reasoning for this is because we already live in a world where there are dystopias. Despite our shithead president’s claims, North Korea is not likely to improve for the people there and Soviet Russia is about as scary a thing that’s ever existed. So to talk about a kind of coming dystopia often feels something between ignorant and privileged.
That said, Doris Lessing is an incredibly talented writer and despite my annoyances with the kind of novel this is, it’s a good version of it. Her understanding of the ways in which everyday society crumbles slowly, almost invisibly, and with a heavy dose of denial is an instructive and important set of ideas.
Prisons We Choose to Live Inside – 5/5 Stars
I swear I’ve written this review twice.
This is a short collections of essays given at a Canadian conference in the mid 1980s. What is important about this time and place is the tone of the essays, which is generally kind of bleak combined with the content of the essays which discusses many themes and ideas (politically, culturally, aesthetically, and artistically) that read genuine and true coming off the bleakness of the 1970s, but also looking forward to the 2020s. It’s both strangely frustrating and slightly comforting that it feels like the same battles for justice, peace, and decency and being fought over and over again.
But it’s also important to place Doris Lessing in come context. The 1980s was not quite a space in which worldwide tensions seem to be pointing toward more and more fascism, and instead felt hopeful in some ways given that dictatorships in Rhodesia and Argentina and Chile had all fallen. But what was becoming clearer was that conservative regimes in Britain and the US, the rise of neoliberal economic policies that had helped to fuel those dictatorships were outpacing the fascism, but keeping the predatory capitalistic policies in place. So while Chile ousted Pinochet, there was still coming the various economic disasters of the 1990s that were being fueled by polices of the World Bank and IMF, so womp womp.
Anyway, enter Doris Lessing who is not at all hopeful, but righteous. And the resulting mix is a bunch of essays that make me feel like the world is a terrible place, but that it’s also always been a terrible place, so while that’s not great, it does take the world off the brink a little.