Ally's Reviews > The Grass Is Singing

The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing
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's review
Feb 18, 10

bookshelves: modern-classics
Read from February 05 to 15, 2010

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 characters are a product of their social situation – far from offering us a stereotyped approach, Lessing sets before us the horrors that are created out of common attitudes perpetuated unthinkingly from generation to generation. She shows us why things need to change.

The ideas expressed within the story are extremely interesting. Lessing explores the complexities of the race relations in Southern Rhodesia, the interplay between extreme poverty, class and race together with the conspiratorial closed society of the white South African's. I particularly liked the way Lessing weaved this oppression together with the oppression of the intense heat of the African plains. In fact, the descriptions of the African landscape are the most evocative part of the book for me.

I'm not sure I liked the flashback telling (I almost gave up only a few pages in but I decided to skip the first chapter and moved directly to chapter 2) - reading chapter 1 last was a must for me as it explained so much.

Moses was a puzzle - curiously I liked him as a character - but it is what Lessing does not say in these scenes that is most interesting - the novel is curiously devoid of sex and yet the novel oozes repressed sexuality - perhaps the natural consequence of the power-play within all relationships depicted here. - Did Moses act with dignity and kindness in his protection of Mary? or was it always a malicious and educated attempt to gain an upper hand? - a convincing argument could be made either way.

...and yet - a lot of what I was reading simply didn't ring true for me. Would a character like Mary marry for such paltry reasons? would she do so that quickly and without even visiting the farm that would become the depth and breadth of her life? Once there, would she really have left the running of the farm to Dick, when she was clearly the more business minded of the two - surely the self-contained Mary of the city could have engineered her life at the farm to both make money and satisfy Dick's love of farming for its own sake? and why would a socially active person like Mary suddenly refuse offers of friendship when she most needed them? Pride simply doesn't cut it for me as an answer - such pride is often broken down by prolonged years of poverty is it not?

Finally - there was a disconcerting genre change - it seemed to me to go from an instrumental political/social fiction into something akin to melodramatic horror (from the scene where Mary, with the support of Marston, tells Moses to go away) - I'm not sure this was necessary.

For me, this book isn’t perfect which explains the 3 star rating. But it is very interesting and really worth reading and pondering a little further.
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