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The Grass Is Singing: A Novel (Perennial…

The Grass Is Singing: A Novel (Perennial Classics) (original 1950; edition 2000)

by Doris Lessing

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1,436465,233 (3.95)200
Title:The Grass Is Singing: A Novel (Perennial Classics)
Authors:Doris Lessing
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2000), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:1001, Nobel, Debut, Rhodesia

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The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing (1950)

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English (40)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
Parmis les livres les plus horribles qu'il m'ait été donné à lire : un mélange entre Mein Kampf and Madame Bovary... La métaphore la plus juste pour parler de ce livre serait : "c'est une épée de Charlemagne, c'est long, froid, et mortel (d'ennuie)
  remy-valero | May 1, 2014 |
Good exploration of the white characters and their motivations. Despite its obvious liberalism it was weak on the motivations of the Africans. ( )
  jerhogan | Apr 8, 2014 |
I wasn't as taken with this book as many others were and seem to have had a different experience of the story. Most readers seem to focus on the race relations and that is indeed perhaps most of the story. It is an excellent description of the horror and ambiguity of racial hatred and the enslavement of others. Lessing is able to express these ideas, both the overt and the covert very well, no doubt due to her life experience. My perspective was more focused on Mary, the lead character, as being raised in a neglectful, if not abusive home, by an emotionally absent mother and an alcoholic father. I'm not sure Mary ever had a chance at any normal intimate relationship aside from the fact of her other circumstances. I found the atmosphere to be rather flat actually, and depressed, but perhaps that was the point. Three stars. ( )
  mkboylan | Feb 28, 2014 |
Coming from a decent family in Southern Rhodesia, Mary prides herself on her ability to balance a full time office job and many friends with her sense of independence. She isn't tied down to anyone except for herself, and for that she is respected. At least, she thinks so until she overhears a conversation between two of her "friends" making dubious remarks about her age and being a spinster. While her anger at the comments slowly boiled, she resolved to marry. Her choice of husbands is a poor white farmer named Richard Turner. They first meet at the movies, and after a very brief courtship, she agrees to marry him and move to his small farm in Ngesi.

Unprepared for what little the farm offered, she tries at first to make the best of it. Making her own dresses from scraps of fabric, whitewashing the walls, taking over the management of the house. But the oppressive heat, the unproductive farm, the seclusion from their neighbors, and her contempt of the native servant who she feels enjoys too much freedom in the house, wears her down. Her constant firing of servants raises a few eyebrows with the locals, making it difficult for Richard to find someone willing to work. Unable to understand her gruffness, he chooses instead to ignore it by spending his time down at the fields, working on some new scheme in a sad attempt to create a profitable farm.

Left on her own, her dislike of the natives comes to a head when she spots one of the farm workers -- Moses -- slacking off. She confronts him, and he tells that he wanted some water. Angry at his disobedience, she strikes him. To her surprise, Moses appears unscathed by her actions, and she stalks away. Weeks later, Richard is forced to hire Moses as the house servant when no one else will take the job because of Mary's reputation. Once Mary realizes who this new servant is, a battle of wills begins between the two.

"The Grass Is Signing" focuses on the racial tensions between Mary, a white South African, and the native Moses. Mary believes that she is better than the natives who work on their farm, though she is considered white trash by local standards. She demands respect from the natives, and when one stands up to her, her supposed strength is revealed to be cowardice and paranoia. She's a remarkable character because not once did I like her. She's a terrible person, but that's one of the draws of the novel, watching how wretched she is and how that serves as her own version of Hell when Moses comes to work in the house, in her constant presence. A remarkable novel and definitely worth a read. ( )
  ocgreg34 | Feb 7, 2014 |
Doris Lessing moved to London in 1949 and because of her involvement with radical politics was banned from her native Southern Rhodesia until black majority rule in 1980. Her first novel written while she lived in Rhodesia was published in 1950 and was a stunning debut; that brutally exposed the culture of her native country. This is the overriding theme but also the novel deals with psychological and mental breakdown and sexual repression.

The novel opens with the murder of Mary Turner and mental breakdown of her husband Dick and the arrest of the black houseboy Moses. Within the first twenty pages of the first chapter Lessing has told the reader all he needs to know about the repressive racist culture that existed in Rhodesia in the 1940's. We are plunged into a society of masters and slaves, but where the masters are beginning to look over their shoulders. Charlie Slatter and a Police Sergeant arrive at the crime scene and their thoughts are only about clearing away the messy situation as quickly as possible. Tony Marston a trainee farm manager just fresh from England is shocked by the attitudes of the White Rhodesians and Lessing says:

"when old settlers say 'One has to understand the Country' what they mean is 'You have to get used to our ideas about the native' They are saying in effect 'Learn our ideas or otherwise get out: we don't want you. Most of these young men were brought up with vague ideas about equality. They were shocked for the first week or so, by the way the natives were treated. They were revolted a hundred times a day by the casual way they were spoken of, as if they were so many cattle; or by a blow or a look. They were prepared to treat them as human beiings. But they could not stand out against the culture they were joining. It did not take them long to change.

The novel is not about young Tony Marston but tells the back story of Mary and Dick Turner and how they come to such a terrible end. Mary is a city girl who finds that her fear of marriage and of intimacy has left her only with a casual circle of younger friends as she moves into her thirties. She no longer fits and so when Dick Turner a farmer from the veldt asks her to marry him she accepts. Dick is a struggling farmer who cannot seem to make anything work, he has ideas about cultivation that are progressive, but in spite of working hard on the land he cannot carry a project through. He takes a more lenient approach with some of the natives and his unwillingness to involve himself socially with his farming neighbours makes him also a person who "does not fit." The book is about the Turners struggle with their environment, their social and sexual relations and the culture which they buy into, but does not work for them. They are two people who are hopelessly ill equipped to cope with any of the challenges facing them and their ruin and disintegration is inevitable. Lessing ruthlessly exposes their lives concentrating on Mary, whose treatment of her native houseboys is as bad as the culture will allow; she seems to be taking out her frustrations on them and when Moses arrives at the end of a long line of houseboys Mary is seriously and mentally ill and a point is reached where a line is crossed from where there is no turning back:

Remembering that thick black neck with the lather frothing whitely on it, the powerful black stooping over the bucket, was like a goad to her. And she was beyond reflecting her anger, her hysteria, was over nothing, nothing that she could explain. What had happened was that the formal pattern of black-and-white, mistress-and-servant, had been broken by a personal relation; and when a white man in Africa by accident looks into the eyes of a native and sees the human being (which is his chief occupation to avoid, his sense of guilt, which he denies, fumes up in resentment and he brings down the whip.

The Turner's inability to exploit the land and to exploit the natives as well as their neighbours leads to their financial ruin, but this is not the whole story and it is Lessing's brilliant dissection of the Turners characters and relationship that makes their total disintegration so believable. Their inability to fit even with each other and the hints of child molestation in Mary's past explains her frustration and fears of being intimate with Dick. This together with an unrelenting climate and an invidious culture leads inexorably to their tragedy. An excellent novel which I would rate as 4.5 stars. ( )
15 vote baswood | Jan 30, 2014 |
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It is by the failures and misfits of a
civilization that one can best judge its
-- Author unknown
In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico, co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder

-- from The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot
with grateful acknowledgements to the
author and to Messrs Faber & Faber
of Southern Rhodesia
for whom I feel the greatest
affection and admiration
First words
Mary Turner, wife of Richard Turner, a farmer at Ngesi, was found murdered on the front verandah of their homestead yesterday morning.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061673749, Paperback)

Set in Southern Rhodesia under white rule, Doris Lessing's first novel is at once a riveting chronicle of human disintegration, a beautifully understated social critique, and a brilliant depiction of the quiet horror of one woman's struggleagainst a ruthless fate.

Mary Turner is a self-confident, independent young woman who becomes the depressed, frustrated wife of an ineffectual, unsuccessful farmer. Little by little the ennui of years on the farm works its slow poison. Mary's despair progresses until the fateful arrival of Moses, an enigmatic, virile black servant. Locked in anguish, Mary and Moses—master and slave—are trapped in a web of mounting attraction and repulsion, until their psychic tension explodes with devastating consequences.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:40 -0400)

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Set in South Africa under white rule, [this book is] both a ... chronicle of human disintegration and an ... understated social critique. Mary Turner is a self-confident, independent young woman who becomes the depressed, frustrated wife of an ineffectual, unsuccessful farmer. Little by little the ennui of years on the farm work their slow poison, and Mary's despair progresses until the fateful arrival of an enigmatic and virile black servant, Moses.... Mary and Moses - master and slave - are trapped in a web of mounting attraction and repulsion. -Back cover.… (more)

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