The Good Terrorist
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Good Terrorist

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  1,676 ratings  ·  130 reviews
The Good Terrorist follows Alice Mellings, a woman who transforms her home into a headquarters for a group of radicals who plan to join the IRA. As Alice struggles to bridge her ideology and her bourgeois upbringing, her companions encounter unexpected challenges in their quest to incite social change against complacency and capitalism. With a nuanced sense of the intersec...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published November 17th 2010 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1985)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Good Terrorist, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Good Terrorist

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
I was thinking the other day about C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle, a book which I utterly loathe. As I said in my review, you can pardon the uninspired writing or the preachiness. What gets me angry is the subplot with Puzzle the donkey, who fronts the religious coup and, somehow, is whitewashed and receives eternal salvation. Apparently, because his unspeakably evil acts were performed in good faith, everything is fine. The surprising thing is that Lewis lived though WW II, and was writing not t...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
Feb 16, 2009 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: archair lefties who take themselves a little too seriously
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: Manny
It's been about 2 weeks now since I've finished The Good Terrorist, and so I'm in that place where I feel most compelled but least capable of writing a review. Since that's never stopped me before, here goes.

I must applaud Lessing for her skill at creating characters, Alice in particular, who are utterly annoying, petulant, stupid, dangerously immature, and appallingly destructive. These characters wrap their fundamental laziness and selfishness in a cloak of ignorant, misguided, sociopathologic...more
Apr 27, 2012 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Unemployed British "revolutionaries"
The story moves very slowly, and things really only start to happen in the final act, yet I was never bored by this book. Doris Lessing's writing is like one of the finer social satirists of the 19th or early 20th century, writing about contemporary events, or at least contemporary for the 1980s, when this book was written. The Good Terrorist is about Alice Mellings, who is, with great and lasting irony, exactly the sort of comfy-making, boo-boo kissing motherly type as her own mother was, even...more
As a lefty and former squatter this book contains dozens of painful home truths familiar to all of us involved in radical politics. The tiny left group removed from reality. The bragging about violence on protests. The lazy 'vanguard thinkers' who let everyone else do the work. All are present and correct in Lessing's unforgiving assault on a hapless bunch of middle class revolutionaries drifting from squat to squat in an attempt to escape from the real world. Alice, intelligent but consumed by...more
Deborah Markus
After the Boston Marathon bombing, I had to reread this book. Everything I could say about it within that context -- that it shows the danger of "the cause" trumping morality; that terrorists are frightening not because they're monsters but because they aren't -- sounds trite and obvious. So I won't focus on those points, other than to say that yes, Doris Lessing does them full justice without being the least bit hamhanded.

Many of the Goodreads reviews of this book have mentioned how difficult i...more
16/5 - I'm a bit scared to start this because it looks deep and complicated and I'm worried I won't understand it. The plot sounds interesting, but the language could be difficult. A bit like what happened with Blood Meridian. Okay, here I go... To be continued...

18/5 - I'm not a fan of well and truly adult women (she's 36!) behaving like innocent 17-year-olds. For the last 39 pages Alice has behaved like a fool; begging for handouts from her parents (50 pounds), verbally and nearly physically a...more
Naomi Foyle
I found the staccato, pile-up syntax grating at first, but by the end of the book I was engrossed. That restless, angular, off-putting voice, I soon realised, not only conveys the world, ‘raw and dismal’, through Alice’s eyes, but also Alice and her world through Lessing’s. A Communist who hasn’t read Marx, a hostile daughter who steals from her own family, yet also a driven homemaker and fearless opponent of bureaucratic injustice, Alice’s triumphant judgements of others are simultaneously Less...more
Apr 07, 2008 Cwinters02 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: NO ONE
I hated this damn book. I was forced to read it for class, and now I have to write a fucking 10-page paper on it by Wednesday. Every page was torturous to read. Nothing happened until the very end, and even that sucked. I recommend that you never read this book. There was not one character or plot line worth investing a second of your life on. Thanks for listening.
Justin Mitchell
In my review of Lolita, I talked about my growing aversion to writing that exists for its own sake and not primarily to express information. Doris Lessing is an excellent example of a writer that I feel uses language in the best way possible. The Good Terrorist's prose is clean, lean, vivid, and efficient, presenting us a world thoroughly credible and believable even as it takes place in a section of our society many people are unaware even exists. The milieu is 1980s London, back when squats we...more
My mother and I have resolved to read prize-winners. Note all of the ambiguities and catch-savers in that sentence. We did not resolve to only read prize-winners, nor did we specify what prizes fell into our category, nor did we specify whether we meant any book from the oeuvre of prize-winning authors or particularly a single prize-winning book. (See, e.g., my very first review on this site, in which I granted only one star to a Golden Dagger Award winner (detective novels get prizes too!)). In...more
The Good Terrorist is Alice Mellings, a mid-thirties London radical who puts her heart and soul into restoring a derelict home as the base for her group, part of the Communist Centre Union, a small political party of activists in the middle of Thatcherism in Britain, who aspire to join the IRA (or even the Soviets).

Alice blazes with energy and bursts with conflicts. She passionately declares she HATES the middle-class that serves the “shitty fucking filthy lying cruel hypocritical system”, but...more
Angela Munro
The Observer wrote about this book that: 'Doris Lessing writes about the parts that other novelists cannot reach', and I would have to agree. Her characterisation is so in-depth and subtle, and written in such plain language that you almost have a deep therapist-like knowledge of the main character. I found myself constantly analysing the characters in order to determine what would happen (or rather what they would allow to happen) next.
Unfortunately for me a group of spoiled, middle class commu...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I first read this as a teenager and just started it again... the story of a british radical who is painfully co-dependent with and mothering towards her compatriots. The details of her machinations inside local bureaucracies (both governmental and social) are astounding.
I wish the picture of the hardback cover was available. It's the title spray-painted in perfect cursive onto a brick wall...
This book is centred on character development and group dynamics. Consequently, the plot suffers somewhat - not a great deal actually happens. It builds up to a satisfying ending, but the journey towards it is slow and detailed. None of the characters are particularly likable. This group of 'revolutionaries' are living in a squat; planning their picketting, grafitti and attempts to get involved with established and active political groups. The book is told from the point of view of Alice, the 'G...more
Doris Lessing has just won the Nobel Prize for literature. Curious, I decided to give this book a try (I don't believe it is the one that won the prize, but it caught my eye).

Having read it, there are a couple of observations:

First: Don't read the back cover. It tells you everything that happens, and nothing about the book. The entire book loses any chance to surprise if you read the back cover summary first.

Second: I can see why Doris Lessing is highly acclaimed.

And third: ... But I don't think...more
This, my second Doris Lessing book, was certainly an interesting read. It is the story of a group of British communist "revolutionaries" who take over a squat in London with the real focus almost totally on one woman named Alice. Lessing describes Alice in detail through the bevy of contradictory thoughts she has over being a communist, her supposedly bourgeoisie divorced parents, her partner in crime Jasper--a secretly and secretive homosexual man--the two of which share an unhealthy dependence...more
Øystein Bjaanes
Seems you do judge a book by its cover, or, at least: I do. I have no idea where my wife bought this book (neither does she, by the way), but it's a book club edition from the 80's, and the cover screams "boooring" at me.

But I have resolved to read all works of fiction currently in our living room that I have not previously read. That includes this book.

And I loved it.

I found it to be a very well written look at the inner life of a radical. Now Alice, the protagonist, is probably not your typic...more
Skimming over some of the reviews below, I feel like I might have sympathised more with the characters in The Good Terrorist, and may have liked the book more as a result.

As an account of a radical subculture in 1980s Britain, I can't say how accurate the book is. I would guess that it is, because in every other way it is relentlessly grounded and realistic. It's a book where the quest of the main character Alice is basically fixing up a house. Digging pits to pour shit into. Repairing the roof,...more
I persevered with this because (a) Lessing won the Nobel, and (b) GoodReads makes me feel like a failure if I don't finish. I couldn't sympathise with any of the thoroughly dislikable but admittedly well-drawn characters. Its protagonist is the much put-upon Alice, a Marxist revolutionary with no clear motivation for being one, who waits on all the freeloaders in her London squat - oops, commune - her servility eventually leading her into terrorism. The first half of the book plods through her s...more
Mike Bull
The strength of this novel is how Alice Mellings, a mid-thirties London woman bursting with energy, moves heaven and earth to reclaim a derelict home for her group, the Communist Centre Union, a group of young protestors in Thatcher era Britain.
Although the group has aspirations of affiliation with the IRA or even the Soviets, they are naive while seeing themselves as important.
Alice comes from a middle class home and uses her divorced parents and other relations in any way she can--above board...more
Quinn Slobodian
A self-consciously political novel in the almost-pedagogical style of Alfred Andersch's Zanzibar or Sartre's Age of Reason, (a style written almost always by former Communist Party members), in which different characters are also intended as types - the blustering zealot, the quiet guard of the revolutionary catechism, the lovers united by the struggle. The whole dynamic is between the everyday and the momentous, about where political actors after 1968 find themselves between planning for the ne...more
Not bad. I enjoyed this look at how a highly functional dysfunctional woman in a pro-communist group lets herself get sucked into a terrorist act that kills a number of people. Lessing paints a picture of how the group dynamics in some of these fringe-y activist groups develop. In her case the main character, who considers herself a "good person" sees her actions and the actions of others through a selectively foggy lens. A little frustrating b/c the author never really tells us why the woman ac...more
Laura Rittenhouse
I didn't finish this book. It was due back at the library and I wasn't enjoying it enough to renew it. If I'd owned the book I would have persevered, but I'd have to like it more to ask for a library extension.

The story focuses on a woman, Alice, who is a dedicated socialist working in her own little way to change the world. She comes from a wealthy family and has thrown her lot in with a more radical group. This is hardly an idealistic look at the movement for social change rising up against ca...more
This is definitely a moral wrapped in a gripping novel, but it’s a point well taken. It’s set in England during the Margaret Thatcher years. The protagonist, Alice, is a young woman who believes that the country is hopelessly corrupt, and that the only answer is armed struggle leading to revolution. She has a lot of unexamined faith in Marx, Lenin and the IRA.

Alice is incredibly sensitive and perceptive when it comes to people, and she’s an amazing and resourceful organizer. Most of the novel is...more
Truly one of the strangest books I have ever read. How can anything so well written be so awful? The characters are straight out of Janet and John - one dimensional and entirely rooted in the middle classes. The only one that isn't, or isn't supposed to be a foreign agent, is truly unbelievable - a jack of all trades who can fix roofs, rewire a house, and install a gas boiler, yet is so fragile he can't get a job. And even at the end of the book, I didn't actually care about any of them. The plo...more
read this when it first cane out I think. now from 30 years on it reads differently. Alice mellings, 36, intelligent but underused her brain . wants to change the world, views her parents as bourgeois but cheerfully steals from them and their homes, businesses and friends. exploits the benefit system yet criticizes the government and plots to blow up random members of the public yet persuades other members of the pathetic squat coterie to take in waifs and strays . in a unhappy yet compulsive re...more
Excellent book. It follows, and is told from the POV of, a woman who becomes involved with Communist terrorists in 70s London. It is a very intimate view and the narration offers a number of really good surprises. I highly recommend this book.
Chris Scott
Doris Lessing writing about 1980s squatty activists? It sounded a bit unlikely, but I gave it a go anyway until I couldn't bear it any longer. I should have trusted my instincts. From the earliest pages it appeared uncertain that the author had set foot in a squat from that period when occupying a perfectly habitable house was child's play. Or perhaps the exaggeratedly atrocious conditions they lived in was a clumsy way of making the protagonists comprising the Gumby Brigade appear even more dim...more
È un libro strano. Dal titolo ti aspetti gente che sa davvero fare il terrorista, ti aspetti ben altra storia, e invece l'autrice schiaffa davanti al lettore una serie di personaggi inetti e dilettanti che non si possono che detestare, o al meglio dei casi compatire. Bambini di buona famiglia che rifuggono il mondo in cui sono cresciuti con la scusa della politica, persone bisognose di affetto e di amore che sognano pateticamente di cambiare il mondo a furia di attentati... In cui però nessuno r...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Dressmaker
  • The Public Image
  • Pascali's Island
  • Confederates
  • The Good Apprentice
  • Jake's Thing
  • The Road to Lichfield
  • The Keepers of Truth
  • Goshawk Squadron
  • Praxis
  • In Custody
  • Paradise
  • Daughters Of The House
  • Orchard On Fire
  • Crossing the River
  • Sour Sweet
  • Oxygen
  • St. Urbain's Horseman
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
More about Doris Lessing...
The Golden Notebook The Fifth Child The Grass is Singing The Memoirs of a Survivor Martha Quest (Children of Violence, #1)

Share This Book

“This world is run by people who know how to do things. They know how things work. They are *equipped.* Up there, there's a layer of people who run everything. But we -- we're just peasants. We don't understand what's going on, and we can't do anything. ...You, running about playing at revolutions, playing little games, thinking you're important. You're just peasants, you'll never *do* anything.” 5 likes
“Oh, no, I'm not saying she isn't a nut -- she is -- but I've noticed before that sometimes someone like that behaves quite ordinarily with everybody, manages everything, you'd never think she was a nut, but there's just one person, with that person, she's out of control. It makes you wonder,' said Alice.” 2 likes
More quotes…