This is the second book of a series of five novels that Doris Lessing wrote in the 1950s and 1960s, called “The Children of Violence.” The first book dealt with our protagonist, Martha Quest, growing up on a white-owned farm in Rhodesia (to be clear she is white and of British heritage).
So this is a second in the series, and certainly an observant reader could pick up this book without needing a lot of information from the first book to move forward, but knowing the first book would make this much simpler. But because the first novel is about the home life of a teen in this situation, especially having the spread out, rural life.
In this novel we start a few weeks after her marriage, at 19, to the first boy who showed the right amount of interest in her. And she hates it.
He, for his part, is a relatively ok and decent person. So this isn’t a novel about an abusive relationship. It’s a novel about the failure of the institution, even focusing on and especially focusing on a relatively benign marriage. And so her attitude, a 19 year old’s petulance about being pinned down, is both reasonable and irrational at the same time, and makes for a good novel. It’s often funny and profoundly sad, without miring in specific misfortune. It’s the correct and true accounting of a life that was moved forward by cultural default, but not being reassessed by someone who never agreed to those defaults on her own.
And because this book is from the 1950s and not from 2018, it’s kind of shocking and fresh in a lot of ways. You can easily give over to its ethos and feel the pain that Martha feels, while also not being shocked by her contemporaries’ inability to feel sympathy for her.