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The Habit of Loving by Doris Lessing
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The Habit of Loving (1957)

by Doris Lessing

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Like many great novelists Doris Lessing is an acute observer of life, both from her own experiences and the imagination that she can bring to bear on other peoples stories. The Habit of Loving is a collection of 17 short stories published in 1957; early in Lessings career and show her ability to think herself into the thoughts and actions of her characters. The connecting theme is a study of relationships, between men and women and between nationalities and although half of them are set in Southern Africa they do not cover the racial tensions that were a feature of her previous novels and short stories.

The stories and sketches have a pleasing variety and Lessing is such a good writer that she seems to take no time at all to draw the reader into the world of her stories and there are some very good ones here; ranging from an eight page description of a Locust attack to a fifty page story about a middle class British couple visiting a German ski resort six years after the end of the second world war. There are stories told in the first person as Lessing picks out incidents from her own life: in “Flavours of Exile” she remembers how as a pre pubescent thirteen year old girl she fantasised about her brother William and how it was so important for her to gain his attention, in “Getting Off The Altitude” she is a little older and has an altogether different interest in boys and tells a story of a lonely married woman who takes a lover out of desperation, but wishes she was old enough not to need him anymore and “In the Day Stalin Died” she remembers an incident in London when she was beginning to distance herself from the communist party.

The title story is one of the longer stories and is about a well known critic and man of the theatre (George) who has always had women in his life, but has now reached an age when he can no longer count on having a women of his choice. He is rejected by a woman that he had thought would come back to him after a period of separation and he becomes physically ill. A nurse is hired to look after him, a younger woman who becomes a trusted friend and lover, but George is no longer in control and fails to accept his situation. A theme of an absence of loving seems to go hand in hand with The Habit of Loving with which Lessing has titled her collection and some of the stories have a meaness about them. The Witness tells the story of Mr Brooks; a disaffected friendless elderly office worker who is despised by the women in the company, who inappropriately reaches out to a junior girl also under fire. Everybody behaves in a way that is all too familiar. In "A Road to the big City"; for once a man plays the good samaritan but his efforts to save a young girl from a life of prostitution are fruitless. In many of the stories it is the injustice that women feel in their relationships with men that guides their actions.

“Plants and Girls” turns out to be a particularly creepy horror story, told in a mere ten pages but still carries an emotional charge, whereas the final long story examines the damage to the psyche of Europeans coming to terms with the aftermath of the second world war. Whether Lessing is telling a story of a young teenager risking his life in a diving competition with older boys or the desperate efforts of a family to protect their livelihood from the ravaging locusts, or a tale of ageing military men revealing an incident from their past that has had profound effects on their thoughts and actions, she places the reader quickly within her story world and most have the power to make us think carefully about what we have just read. This is an excellent collection and a four star read. ( )
3 vote baswood | Jan 17, 2015 |
Des nouvelles, des histoires de femmes et leur besoin d'aimer. Je ne me suis pas sentie concernée, je le regrette...
  lenasouslefiguier | Mar 4, 2007 |
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A collection of short stories set in Africa and England.

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