In Alfred & Emily, groundbreaking author Doris Lessing returns to the subject matter explored in her 1994 autobiography, Under My Skin. Fans will recognize common themes and details, but Lessing's outlook and tone have softened. Critics were touched by her genuine attempt to understand her overbearing, self-absorbed mother, though her writing is still tinged with resentment. Lessing's fictional novella is no fairy tale, but most critics found it unconvincing. Why invent a fictional life if it isn't compelling? They much preferred the memoir: its somber tone and gritty details bring the unhappy couple wrenchingly and heartrendingly to life, its fractured, unconventional structure reminiscent of that of The Golden Notebook. While Lessing has penned a powerful and unsparing portrait of a marriage framed by the physical and psychological damages of war, a few critics suggest that general readers might do best to start with Under My Skin, The Golden Notebook, or another of Lessing's novels.
This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.