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Five by Doris Lessing
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Five (edition 1969)

by Doris Lessing (Author)

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1411194,772 (3.95)5
Member:MiroslawP
Title:Five
Authors:Doris Lessing (Author)
Info:Hunter Publishing inc (1969), 384 pages
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Five by Doris Lessing

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Published in 1953 when Lessing had moved to London these early novels explore themes that Lessing would develop throughout her writing career. Late in life she identified four focal points of her work:

1) Split personality of the individual subject

2) Individual conscience and collective consciousness

3) Alienation and claustrophobia of the individual

4) Transition or metamorphoses of the individual

These themes are all present in the short novels to a greater or lesser extent, but the real clue to her early novels is her concentration on the individual. All the stories have a strong central character, whose individuality may lead him or her taking actions that both challenge and surprise the reader. It is Lessing's skill that makes us accept that within the context of the story these actions highlight and give shape to our understanding of how an individual can react to a society from which he is alienated.

A Home for the Highland Cattle . Marina and her husband move to Southern Rhodesia in search of a better life and while Phillip soon gets involved in his work Marina is left to make a life for herself in a run down suburb for poor white people. She immediately comes into contact with a system of apartheid that she naturally rejects and her involvement in the life of her houseboy challenges both her and the white community around her.

The Other Woman The only story not set in Africa, but in war torn London when the bombs are falling during the Second World War. Rose who lives with her father suddenly finds herself alone and homeless when a bomb destroys her house while she is at work. One of the rescue workers Jimmie seduces her and she sets up in a small flat in which she hopes Jimmie will eventually move into. Jimmie is married and is also attracted to another woman who has long had a soft spot for him. Rose is unperturbed and makes the best of her situation, not worrying about other peoples opinions.

Eldorado Alec Barnes buys a farm in South Africa intent on using his own methods and eschewing advice from the locals. Within a relatively short period of time he has overworked his land and is struggling to make a living. He becomes interested in prospecting for gold convinced that by using his own methods he will find gold on his land. Alec's son Paul finds himself in a difficult position, he can see that his father is ruining their land and while his mother Maggie is supportive of her husband she sees that Paul must make his own way. Paul is also caught up by gold fever, but goes into partnership with an old time prospector.

Antheap Gold fever is also the backdrop in this story. The antheap is an enormous hole in the ground; isolated up in hill country. It is owned and worked by Mr Mackintosh who uses black people as slave labour in difficult and dangerous conditions. Mackintosh is a workaholic, who is only happy making money from the mine. He employs a white engineer and his wife who live in the only other house on site and he takes a fatherly interest in their son Tommy. Mackintosh has sired a number of half caste children whom he disowns, but one of them; Dirk becomes a friend of Tommy. An intense rivalry develops between the two boys that leads to a curious friendship as they both seek to escape the mine.

Hunger This is twice as long as the other novels and is a tour de force. Lessing tells the story of a boy from a kraal leaving home to make his way in the city of white men. He is an intelligent strong youth who dreams of being successful. The reader sees the world through the eyes of Jabavu, but knowing that the odds are stacked against him. It seems like impossible odds for a raw native to gain a foothold in the city, but Jabavu gets lucky avoiding the immediate pitfalls. Lessing paints a convincing picture of a strong intelligent man facing the apartheid system with no prior knowledge of the dangers it holds for him.

In this final novel Jabavu is described as a youth with an enormous hunger Lessing says "He cannot bear to think of others, his hunger for himself is so strong" All of the individuals in these novels have this hunger, this selfishness that sweeps all before it and in some cases enables them to succeed or at least find some redemption.

Three of the novels deal with the horrors of the apartheid system and how those caught up in it vainly fight to survive within it. It is claustrophobic and relentless and Lessing provides the details of a system that is denigrating and cruel. It is well to remember that when these novels were published, white rule in South Africa and Rhodesia appeared to be unassailable. I do not know which of the five novels was the earliest, but would hazard a guess that "A Home for Highland cattle" was written first because in places the thoughts of the characters are expressed a little awkwardly, but there is no such awkwardness in the other stories. Some fine descriptive writing draws the reader into the landscapes and cultures of South Africa with its townships, Kraals, sanitary lanes and verdant growth, however the stories themselves are good ones with a tension signifying that there should be a resolution. A fine collection and one that I rate as 4 stars. ( )
7 vote baswood | May 21, 2014 |
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These days, when people emigrate, it is not so much in search of sunshine, or food, or even servants.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Five stories: A Home for the Highland Cattle, The Other Woman, Eldorado, The Antheap, Hunger
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