Jennifer's Reviews > The Diaries of Jane Somers: The Diary of a Good Neighbor and If The Old Could

The Diaries of Jane Somers by Doris Lessing
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Sep 06, 2010

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Read from September 06, 2013 to January 25, 2014

These are two novels by Lessing (first published pseudonymously) with the same main character, packaged together.

I much preferred "Diary of a Good Neighbor," which is the story of how a middle-aged woman who finds herself drawn into the lives of some elderly and dying women. Perhaps it's because the themes of aging and mortality are less dated, and the issues she struggles with more universal. "If the Old Could" deals with Jane's meeting a stranger on a train platform and immediately "falling in love" with him, beginning a drawn-out affair in which they don't even learn each others' names or talk about their lives for months. They meet and walk around the city, never even kissing, and it's portrayed as very romantic, and it's so very different from anything I recognize as a relationship that I found it mostly confusing. Considering how everything kind of falls apart when they do start to learn more about each other, perhaps Lessing meant for that to be the impression. Meanwhile, Jane has to deal with her niece moving in with her--the segments with her confused, vague, utterly narcissistic niece struck me much more than her romance--a good reminder that people at the beginning of adulthood have always been rather lost and rudderless, recent moaning about "millennials" be damned.

Both stories deal with aging at different levels of development--the shift from adolescence to adulthood, and perils of middle age (both Jane and her lover are half in love with who they were rather than who they are) and the transition toward death. Interesting, delicate, nuanced, but in some ways I feel like the characters are from a stranger and more distant culture than Jane Austen's characters.
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09/06/2013 marked as: currently-reading
01/24/2014 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Barbara (last edited Apr 19, 2014 05:54PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara "...perils of middle age (both Jane and her lover are half in love with who they were rather than who they are)"

What a wonderful comment! So clever and evocative, without being at all precious. I wish I'd thought of it.

Jennifer Oh, thank you! Lessing's writing style encourages trying for something memorable... :)

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