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The Grass is Singing

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  4,771 ratings  ·  466 reviews
Set in South Africa under white rule, Doris Lessing's first novel is both a riveting chronicle of human disintegration and a beautifully 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 poiso
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Hardcover, 208 pages
Published March 6th 2000 by Flamingo (first published 1950)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Petra Xtra Crunchy
This book is a stunning exposé of why Zimbabwe has Mugabe and why he, evil as he is, is certainly no worse than that great white hope, Sir Cecil Rhodes. The whites in this book, with one exception, are all devotees of Rhodes and his brand of racism - Rhodesia for the whites, the blacks are suitable for being farm animals as they are all thieves, liars and hate the white man. It's the same mindset as slavery really.

The grass is singing cicada songs, songs of blood, songs of freedom - if the gentl
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Kris
In her first novel, The Grass is Singing (first published 1950), Doris Lessing begins with a short description of a crime on a farm in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe):

MURDER MYSTERY
By Special Correspondent
Mary Turner, wife of Richard Turner, a farmer at Ngesi, was found murdered on the front veranda of their homestead yesterday morning. The houseboy, who has been arrested, has confessed to the crime. No motive has been discovered. It is thought he was in search of valuables.


For Lessing, the cri
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Zanna
Re-read after about 7 year's break.

One of the unusual things about this, Lessing's first published book, is the extreme omniscient author position she takes. She describes a character's appearance to others, then swoops into her psyche to reveal her thoughts. She describes someone's response to another person's expression and then jumps to his companion's view of him. To emphasise her power even further, she shifts from objective descriptions of the landscape to characters' experiences of it. Ho
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Giovanna
Sep 17, 2007 Giovanna rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Sandra
I wouldn't say that I enjoyed this book (because how can you enjoy the telling of the slow but constant decomposition of a woman and her psyche) but I do have to say that it was an engrossing read. Although I could not identify with the characters and rejected their weaknesses and frailties, I could not put the book down. The author creates a wonderful psychological vortex in the hot and arid lands of the African bush and she is not afraid to take it to its ultimate conclusion. The book is also ...more
Bill  Kerwin
Doris Lessing's first novel has the precision of a fine short story and the depth of a much longer novel. This portrait of the psychologial disintegration of a farmer's wife saddled with an ineffectual husband on a luckless South African farm is precisely realized and and completely convincing. The last quarter of the novel, however, is weaker than the rest. The character of the black house servant Moses is more of a symbol than a human being, and the ending--meant to be tragic--descends to melo ...more
Jean
The Grass is Singing is Doris Lessing's first novel, published in 1950. It is a savage and stark indictment of South Africa's apartheid system. It is set in what was formerly Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and concentrates on Rhodesian white culture with its racist and prejudiced attitudes. The system of gross racial injustice dominates both the society and this story.

The novel is told in flashback. At the beginning of chapter one there is a brief news report of the murder of a white woman plu
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Chrissie
This book grows on you. While I was reading it, it disturbed me. It has a strong emotional impact. What disturbed me was that the story is told. There is an omniscient narrator who explains everything, what happens and why each character makes the choices they make. We are told how they feel and why they do particular things. How as a reader do you react if you think other reasons could be the cause of a particular choice? I wasn’t quite sure if I believed what I was being told, so rather than a ...more
Georgia
Not the good time read of the year. In this book it's almost impossible to not pity and despise all of the characters. Set in Rhodesia, this is Doris Lessing's first novel and she pulls from her experience growing up in Africa.

Page 1. Mary Turner has been murdered on the farm where she and her husband Dick live. That's about as pleasant as the book gets. So be warned. Lessing goes back from this gruesome scene to explain how Mary left her pleasant single life working in the city and ended up mis
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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
My brother-in-law loves to spend his weekend drinking with his buddies. They drink and swap tales. My mother, sister, wife, our househelps and a lot of women I know all have their favorite soap operas, movies, gossips and daily topics for discussion. A brother of mine is a voracious reader; the other, addicted to historical trivia. All these are just varied ways to satisfy the great human need for stories.

Great story, this novel with a title taken from T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," that part wh
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Abby
"The Grass Is Singing" was Doris Lessing's first novel, published in 1950 when she was thirty years old, had moved from Southern Rhodesia to London and had had 3 children by two husbands. Lessing wasn't born in Africa -- she came with her British parents as a young child from Persia -- but her early novels were based on her years on her family's struggling farm and as a young wife and mother in colonial Africa with its rigid constraints based on race, class and gender.

While “The Grass Is Singin
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Paola
So many things go on in this novel, the unravelling of a marriage doomed from the start in apartheid South Africa* showing us how two people can cooperate gently and effortlessly in causing each other's misery. The natives all around are a necessary nuisance and a handy outlet for despairing frustration.

Lessing captures with great skill the many facets of the personalities of average individuals, from the protagonists Mary and Dick Turner, to the embodiment of South African white farming society
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Nancy
This is a very powerful book that deals with racism in South Africa during apartheid. What impressed me about the novel is that she is able to convey the inherent fear and hatred that existed between whites and blacks in such a way that shows how subconscious their feelings were. The whites were self-righteous in their belief that the natives were subhuman and good for only serving the whites. They were offended if natives spoke English to them—many believing they shouldn’t be educated. The book ...more
Margitte
A remarkable book, given that it was first published in 1950 during a much different era than the current one in Africa. For me it is an extension, if you will, of similar racial prejudice and hardships experienced by the Jamaicans who migrated to England after the Second World War as described in "Small Island", written by Andrea Levy, as well as so many other authors reporting similar kind of circumstances. Their books, however, were based on historical events, where as Lessing's book was rele ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Sep 03, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: LibraryThing: Best African Books
I read this in one sitting--not so much because it's short--although it's a relatively short novel--but I found it nigh un-putdownable, which is a bit odd, because this novel has several aspects I'd ordinarily find off-putting. It's on an ugly subject--racism, with characters impossible to like but I found oddly compelling, and it's very interior--with pages, even chapters--where you'll find very little to no dialogue.

This is set in what was Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) around World War II.
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Ally
The Grass is Singing is a pretty grim book but for all its soul-destroying intensity it is surprisingly gripping and - dare I say it - an easy read. That says a lot about Doris Lessing's abilities as a writer.

This is not a murder mystery – despite what the first chapter would have us believe. The murder is a tool to display wider white supremacist attitudes. The story of Mary provides a backdrop against which Lessing provides a subtle but powerful social scrutiny of society under Apartheid. All
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Tracy
This book was Lessings' debut novel and a ballsy book with which to start a career. Depressing? yes. Unexpected? usually. Intriguing? hell yeah. Beware the hidden consequences of welding power over 'inferior' people, it's a miserable existence.

I find books about racism/xenophobia told from the 'master' POV very interesting. It's one of the reasons I like Faulkner so much.
Pink
I liked this book a lot, even more so realising it was Lessing's first novel written back in 1950. I found her writing very evocative, being able to picture the African landscapes and detailed characters in my head. I flew through this short book in little over a day, as I was captivated by the story and wanted to find out what happened. Yet somewhere towards the end, the story ran out of steam for me and kind of drifted off from all the detail that I'd previously loved. While this book won't be ...more
James
While the title sounds rather lyrical the story is anything but that. This is the story of Mary and Richard Turner, who farm the land in South Africa in the forties when apartheid is the rule. Mary is an intelligent woman who makes a a fateful choice in Richard for her husband. Living with Richard, who is ineffectual and unsuited to the life of farming, soon leads Mary to depression. She grows progressively bitter and takes her frustration out on the black servants that help run the farm. In spi ...more
Gloria
An engrossing read, if not wholly depressing, as one watches a woman's psyche unravel amidst the solitary, barren farm life of pre-Apartheid South Africa.

Without much to endear a reader to her, one cannot help but feel for this woman's slow descent into quiet, apathetic madness. (view spoiler)

Read in less than a day, it bears out Ms. L
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Catherine
This was a really strange book, for me. I don't even know what to say about it. The two-star rating is a bit misleading, I guess; it's not that the book was just OK, since it was extremely well written. It's more that it was just so...strange. So unrelentingly dark. So unrelatable, and yet somehow uncomfortably familiar -- the characters' racism and insecurities and slowly developing insanity. I think Ms. Lessing is an incredible writer, but reading this, her first novel, made me so uncomfortabl ...more
Blake
In viewing the personal as intensely political the gaze can sink into reduction. Writing under this view of acts potentially flattens the personal vocabulary across political tongue and the personal is abolished. Whereas The Golden Notebook later balanced on this pin deftly, The Grass Is Singing is content to land in the space of persons and let the other in.
Elizabeth
The description for this novel states "Mary Turner is a self-confident, independent young woman who becomes the depressed, frustrated wife of an ineffectual, unsuccessful farmer." Mary may have been self-confident and independent to a degree, but she was living in an unsustainable state of arrested development. And thus began her march to tragedy, as she felt pressured (in her 30s) to marry, and lacking the attentions of a suitable man "in town," accepted the proposal of Dick Turner, the "ineffe ...more
Alfredo
De nuevo, retomaré mi pleito con las cuartas de forros, con los reseñadores complacientes y con los críticos a los que el hecho de que una persona haya ganado, en algún momento de su vida, un premio de los grandes —en este caso, el Príncipe de Asturias y el Nobel—, les lleva a sacralizar la totalidad de su obra, lo que, por decir lo menos, tiende a situar en un mismo plano los trabajos excepcionales y los medianos.

Canta la hierba es un trabajo mediano de Doris Lessing. Una novela bien ambientada
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James
I still cannot believe The Grass is Singing was Doris Lessing's debut novel. Never has the writing seemed so precise and mature, so filled with wisdom and story, it read old beyond its years and is able to penetrate into the psychology of its characters with such strength. Set in Southern Rhodesia the novel is on one hand domestic, focusing on the isolated lives of a couple who rush into marriage and move away to Dick's farm, but within the oppressive environment of the farm, the isolation that ...more
Susan
I felt physically ill reading The Grass is Singing. It’s that good.

It’s hard to believe it was Lessing’s first novel. The story of the death of Mary Turner and the declining life leading up to it is so well told that I felt an uneasy but strong understanding of a sort of bitterness and hatred that one can only be repulsed by. I can’t say that I wanted to see shallowness and bitterness up so close, but I couldn’t put it down. And while I (thankfully) couldn’t relate to Mary, the ways in which sh
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Kris McCracken
The Grass Is Singing wtakes place in South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the 1940s in a period of a very particular racial politics between the minority white population against the majority blacks in the then British Colony. The process of decolonisation just around the corner, but the tensions inherent in such a process is omnipresent in the narrative.

Yet The Grass Is Singing is more than a (pre-) Post-Colonial novel. It is also the bleak analysis of failed marriage, the neurotic s
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Kari
Okay, I know I am giving only 4 and 5 star ratings today. But that's because I haven't read any crap books recently!

This is Doris Lessing's first book, and it's pretty astounding with that in mind. Lessing has a quality I don't quite know how to describe, where she is able to tell a story without spelling out all of the details for you like most, lesser authors do.

This book is brutal in its depiction of racism in 1940s Africa, and if I didn't know more about the author, and if I hadn't caught o
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Ece
I started reading the book with a medium level expectation and in the end, I was really impressed. England vs. England is my first Doris Lessing experience and reading that story I realized her ability to create the atmosphere so realistically that I felt like the main character, I was able to identify with him.
Reading The Grass is Singing, with a feeling of confusion, I'm even more impressed with her writing. Her approach towards the social problems is very special, she deals with these issues
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Susan
This book is the perfect example of why people should not get married just because it is the social norm. While very happy living in the city and working as a secretary Mary caves into the gossip of her friends and decides to marry a farmer. She has no interest in farming or her husband. While initially successful at maintaining her home and a small chicken farm her one weakness is that she can not manage the natives.

She refuses to get involved in the community and so her only company is a husba
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Nancy
This won the pulitzer prize... I must be very shallow- I didn't like it much. The story takes place in South Africa before WWII. Mary the main character is an unlikable woman who slips steadily into madness after moving to her new husband's farm from the city she knew and loved. As her struggles with the "natives" deepened, so too did her madness and her husbands inability to deal with it or her. There was nothing redeeming in their lives, their struggles or their relationships. Obviously it is ...more
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
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All About Books: The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing (Shirley, Jean and Pink) 78 40 Feb 16, 2014 10:54AM  
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SOcial setting 1 23 Jun 16, 2008 02:18AM  
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Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Like other women writers from southern African who did not graduate from high school (such as Oliv ...more
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“Loneliness, she thought, was craving for other people's company. But she did not know that loneliness can be an unnoticed cramping of the spirit for lack of companionship.” 30 likes
“If she had been left alone she would have gone on, in her own way, enjoying herself thoroughly, until people found one day that she had turned imperceptibly into one of those women who have become old without ever having been middle aged: a little withered, a little acid, hard as nails, sentimentally kindhearted, and addicted to religion or small dogs.” 27 likes
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