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Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing

Alfred and Emily (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Doris Lessing

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3431031,955 (3.32)26
Title:Alfred and Emily
Authors:Doris Lessing
Info:Fourth Estate (2008), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:second hand, source: darling st

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Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing (2008)



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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
"The Great War, the war that would end all war, squatted over my childhood."
By sally tarbox on 31 Jan. 2015
Format: Paperback
Doris Lessing, brought up on an African farm, in what seems quite a tough lifestyle, reminisces on her parents.
Both were British: her mother went against her father's plans for her to go to university, becoming a nurse instead. And her sporty, outdoors father was wrecked in the Great War. Their thoughts of a money-making farm in Rhodesia were doomed to failure....
In the first half of the novel, the author imagines a whole different story for them, if they had taken different paths. Her mother, devoting herself to social work (though interestingly, still not happy); her father healthy, married to someone else...
Then in the second half she takes us into what their real lives were like - the disappointment, the memories. She recalls dressing the dog in her mother's gorgeous but moth-eaten dinner gowns - emblems of a world she would never know again. And with the wisdom of old age she analyses the difficult relationship she had with her mother.
Wonderful novel/ autobiography: I hope to read 'Martha Quest', Ms Lessing's autobiography of her youth soon. ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
II was an interesting story about her parents' life in Rhodesia. I felt the syntax was stilted and choppy throughout the book. Because of " ,choppiness" it was hard to focus on what she was trying to convey. Doris Lessing is a Pulitzer Prize winner. I know it's me, not her. I think I have been saturated with reading books maybe not up to par with her writing skills.. She wrote some excerpts which were food for thought (forgive the pun) on American restaurants throwing away good food, while there are starving people everywhere. She thought is was unforgivable. It is. Also food for thought were her excerpts about war being nothing more than profiteering. I didn't enjoy the first part about her parents imaginary life. She should have stuck with reality. ( )
  brillow51 | Oct 6, 2012 |
"That war, the Great War, the war that would end all war, squatted over my childhood. The trenches ere as present to me as anything I actually saw around me. And here I still am, trying to get our from under the monstrous legacy, trying to get free.

"If I could meet Alfred Tayler and Emily McVeagh now, as I have written them, as they might have been had the Great War not happened, I hope they would approve the lives I have given them. -- Doris Lessing fromAlfred and Emily

This was a very strange book. Lessing did seem to be trying to exorcise the demons of her childhood. The first half of the book is an alternate reality in which Lessing's parents live the lives they were supposed to--without war and without marrying each other! Alfred marries a pretty plump woman, has children and works on an English farm. Emily becomes a nurse, marries a rich surgeon, and uses his fortune to found schools for the poor when he dies suddenly. All this takes place in an England that never went to war (either WWI or WWII.) Because a fairy tale life is boring, Lessing sprinkles in some conflicts with parents, an alcoholic friend, disappointments, etc., but basically they live long and mostly fulfilled lives.

In the second half we get all the tragedy of their real lives, the psychological trauma of loss (Alfred's leg in the war, Emily's great love); the family's trials on an unproductive farm in Rhodesia; Alfred's slow decline and death due to diabetes; Emily's grasping need to live through her children (in the fictional version, Emily has no children!) If anyone wants insight into Lessing's writing, this is a good place to start. She says herself that she spent most of her writing life, working out her problems with her mother. But don't mistake this for historical fiction - it's mostly memoir. ( )
  MarysGirl | Sep 3, 2010 |
A combination novella/memoir, the first half about what her parents' lives would have been like if not for World War I, the second, the reality. Like everyone else who lived through that time, their lives were pretty well ruined by the war.

I liked the novella - she didn't give them perfect lives, but real ones that included regret and ambiguity. The memoir section was interesting too, about their life on a farm in Rhodesia. Her mother imagined it would be like Happy Valley in Kenya, and it wasn't; the farm was small and pretty much a failure, and her father developed diabetes (he'd already lost a leg in the war) and died fairly young. Much of this part is about how Lessing's mother tried to live through her children and to control them, a theme I think a lot of us can relate to.

I don't think I've ever read anything by Doris Lessing before; I think of her as writing dense political books, but this is a wonderful story. I believe it isn't typical of her writing but maybe I'll try some of her other books. ( )
  piemouth | May 12, 2010 |
The novella, about the lives they might have led had they not married, was intriguing. Their unhappy real lives ... not so much. ( )
  picardyrose | Jan 31, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060834889, Hardcover)

In this profoundly moving book, Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing explores the lives of her parents, each irrevocably damaged by the Great War. In the fictional first half of Alfred and Emily, she imagines the happier lives her parents might have made for themselves had there been no war. This is followed by a piercing examination of their relationship as it actually was in the shadow of the devastating global conflict.

"Here I still am," says Lessing, "trying to get out from under that monstrous legacy, trying to get free." Triumphantly, with Alfred and Emily, she has done just that.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:26 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In a personal meditation on family, war, and memory, the author re-imagines the lives of her parents if World War I had not happened, and also relates the facts of their lives in the wake of the war's devastation.

(summary from another edition)

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