Doris Lessing – The Grass Is Singing

In her debut novel The Grass Is Singing (1950), Doris Lessing takes the reader to southern Africa, the area in which she grew up herself, and provides a view on the lives of the people there, those who have been there for some time and those who are looking for new chances. It is a time of colonization, albeit a slow one, that is defined by a clear separation between the native Africans and the white population. It is a peculiar society with many unwritten rules. Lessing does not put these up front but shows it by describing the daily lives and behavior of the characters.

There are not many characters in the story. It is centered around an odd couple leading an isolated life on their farm. There are three notable side characters although even they get relatively little attention. All other characters get hardly any attention. I have pretty much forgotten them already.  With so few characters it is obvious that Lessing delves deep into them and pretty much takes everything she can make of it. The downside, even though the novel is not long, is that the reader will get the gist of it at a certain point and the rest is simply sitting it out.

Although there is plenty of story there is not really that much plot development. Lessing actually takes the most dramatic event to the front of the novel. This device worked well as it immediately got me intrigued. It spurred me on on the next chapters to see what had been going on. As I mentioned earlier, Lessing then starts taking her time. It is not that the pace is too slow, but one starts to realize that the most interesting part has already been read and one is reading a thorough study of how things came to be, which is not that exciting. I still hoped for the story to take a different turn but at a certain point you realize it is not going to happen.

The novel is well written. As said Lessing starts with a strong opening. Her description of the different types of life in southern Africa is clear and easily understandable. One can see the many layers without them really being touched. As Lessing was probably very familiar with these she did not need to go into detail as she was simply describing what was natural to her. It is for the reader to actually recognize it. It is here that you see the quality of the novel.

The story itself is a drama or tragedy. There is no real happiness and life for the characters is quite bleak. It did not yet become depressing, but this kind of novel is not something I enjoy to read. I read on to see it to the end, partially in the hope it would have some twist in store or some development that would make a difference. This did not happen and because of that this book does not get a positive review from me. It is not that I require a happy ending but I have a positive attitude. If a story does not hold a bigger message of some meaning it will simply not touch me. This is the case for The Grass Is Singing. It is the study of a tragedy and it holds nothing more than a fine picture of the time and place the story is set in.

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