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Martha Quest

(Children of Violence #1)

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,204 ratings  ·  156 reviews
Intelligent, sensitive, and fiercely passionate, Martha Quest is a young woman living on a farm in Africa, feeling her way through the torments of adolescence and early womanhood. She is a romantic idealistic in revolt against the puritan snobbery of her parents, trying to live to the full with every nerve, emotion, and instinct laid bare to experience. For her, this is a ...more
Paperback, 327 pages
Published January 23rd 2001 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1952)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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 ·  2,204 ratings  ·  156 reviews

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Jan 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: You, if you find the world intriguing
Recommended to Cheryl by: 2015 Year of Reading Women
She read as if this were a process discovered by herself; as if there had never been a guide to it. She read like a bird collecting twigs for a nest. She picked up each new book, using the author’s name as a sanction, as if the book were something separate and self-contained, a world in itself.

For Martha, life was more than a shelter of similar ideologies. She did not want to become a monomaniac; rather, she was interested in exploring and understanding culture and thought, similari
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I pulled an old, sellotaped-together 70s paperback of Martha Quest from a bag of books belonging to a friend of mine, vaguely expecting something stodgy and of-its-time. It had me completely entranced. A meticulous, deeply-felt Bildungsroman, it really does what this kind of book is supposed to do (and so rarely succeeds in doing), which is to make you feel like you're there, experiencing this life along with the protagonist – experiencing, in this case, what it's like to grow up in colonial Afr ...more
Mike Puma
Dec 27, 2014 rated it liked it

Briefly: This is definitely NOT a novel informed by the “show, don’t tell” school of writing. Lessing tells, and tells, and tells, and tells. Like a 300+ page polysyndetonic description of a train wreck (and MQ’s life is a train wreck from slow start to slightly sped up finish) but without the coordinating conjunctions. Any favorable characters are only implied (Joss Cohen, Andrew Matthews, Joss’ uncle) and remain largely undeveloped—perhaps, the next four volumes will make more/better use of th

Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it

Someone called her the “reluctant heroine”, the Nobel Literature prize recipient of 2007, Doris Lessing.

At 88, she still heard voices from her childhood. She had been born in Persia. Then she lived in South Rhodesia (what’s today Zimbabwe). At that age she feared for our present civilization: “it’s going to dissolve”:” the precarious patterns of civilization we set”; “we’re living the collapse of society”

Julian Mitchell, a friend of Lessing, said about her: “Africa is her soul”. He i
Jan 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
We are caught in the flow of Martha's psychological time. Years pass in a treacly flood of hot, irritated afternoons, a single moment of transcendent commune with the universe lasts hours (and takes up several pages), and busy days in the city expand to fill decades with a handful of weeks. I can imagine readers complaining about 'pace' since little happens, but the book engages me, Martha's time is the slow river of story I share gladly with her, and I am happy to swim leisurely in her company

Jonathan Peto
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
At the start Martha Quest is a fifteen year old English girl (though time flows quickly... she’s 19 or 20 at the 40% mark and remains about that age for the rest of the book). At the beginning, it’s about 1935: between the World Wars, Hitler is name-dropped, and Martha lives on a farm in Africa. She’s isolated and doesn’t really have a friend her age, another girl, to talk to except for one whose outlook doesn’t match hers. She’s literary, argumentative, and sometimes perplexing, at least to me. ...more
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Afrikaaner dudebros, hypochondriac farmers, Boer chicks
I quite liked The Good Terrorist, so was prepared to sink into some more litfic by the renowned Doris Lessing. I'd heard that Children of Violence is one of those covert speculative fiction forays that litfic authors sometimes indulge in.

If so, it's certainly not in evidence here. (From reading reviews of the subsequent books, it appears the only "speculative" element comes at the very end of the last book.) Martha Quest is basically a bildungsroman about a young Englishwoman in South Africa in
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Rebellious, seventeen year old Martha's mother doesn't approve of the way she handles her finances.

"Well, it's my money!" snaps the daughter.

Mom helpfully points out that she's not yet of age, and if it came down to a court case the judge would rule that she was within her rights in stopping Martha from making unwise purchases. But for some reason this doesn't improve matters.

Teenage girls! Aren't they just impossible sometimes?
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
Since she won the Nobel (and received it with what I thought was funny, dry nonchalance--utterly unimpressed with herself) I finally made good on a years-old, smiling-nodding pledge to a former roommate of my brother's (Ploughman anyone?) that I would check out some of Doris Lessing's stuff. It helped that there was a hilariously large English books section at the Brockihaus (massive 2nd hand store common in Switzerland) where we went halloween costume shopping last year. I made my Palin powersu ...more
Martha Quest: In Search of One's Self

This novel was read in conjunction with the group 2015: The Year of Reading Women/a>

Review to follow. All things in moderation. Theraflu. Avoiding prose in the throes of delirium.
Like a lot of frustrated fifteen-year-old girls, Martha Quest is horrified by her parents' convictions. She lives with her parents on a farm in colonial Rhodesia some time before WWII, and she spends most of her time dreaming and reading and sticking to herself. Her parents don't approve of the options Martha might have for friendship, aside from the neighbor's daughter who is heading down the same road as Martha's parents - in other words: boring, stuck-up, shallow.

Over the next few years Marth
Rocío G.
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lessing portrays the coming-of-age of her young protagonist through the use of fluid language that emphasizes the 'thing-whithin´, the restless adolescent spirit, trapped inside a changing body she's still getting used to. Martha, who is fifteen at the beginning of the novel, feels stifled by her parents and surroundings. The impoverished farm in rural Rhodesia, ruled over by her disillusioned sickly father and her overbearing mother, is too narrow a setting for Martha, who hungers for books, ex ...more
Part of The Year of Reading Women group reads.

Overall, I like Doris Lessing. The Golden Notebook was lovely, The Good Terrorist was interesting, and I'd been meaning to get back into her work for a while. A multi-volume read as part of a group of Goodreaders? Sure, I'll take that on.

Martha Quest, the eponymous character of this volume, grows up on a rural African farm, chatting with the local shopkeeper's boys who she relies on for books as well. She's well-read, spunky, but definitely a produ
Diana Stevan
Doris Lessing is described as "one of the most serious, intelligent and honest writers of the whole post-war generation"(SUNDAY TIMES). I found her book curious. Although I appreciated her in-depth exploration of a young woman's transition from living with her parents on a sheltered farm in Africa to working in an urban setting with all its temptations, I had trouble liking the protagonist. She couldn't make up her mind, and all her flip-flopping was annoying. I couldn't wait to finish the book, ...more
Linda Abhors the New GR Design
Abrupt ending, inconsistent feelings of character, disheartening ending must all be forgiven when one takes into account that it's heavily autobiographical. Life is what it is. That being said, I probably wouldn't read it again. ...more
May 23, 2016 rated it liked it
A coming of age story. A story of a girls journey trying to deal with a mentally disconnected (results of war) father and a pathetically jealous mother. How she does this, is what broke my heart.
Judy Diamond
Sep 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Doris Lessing's 5 volume "Children of Violence" series

"Martha Quest" is the first book in Doris Lessing's "Children of Violence" series. It is well written, keeps your interest, and gives you a lot of historical as well as autobiographical data. The details and descriptions of places and characters make you feel that it's all real and happening. The character of Martha Quest is many faceted, and I was very curious to see what happens in her life. She is British, growing up in Africa with all of
Shehroze Ameen
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I remember seeing the cover of this book and honestly being interested in the author. the late Doris Lessing simply did not disappoint.

Its a good start, to be honest with you. The characters are introduced slowly, no doubt, but the time taken is worth the trouble in my honest opinion. Told in a first person perspective and being a historical fiction-cum-autobiography of the author, you follow the story of Martha Quest living in South Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe), as she progresses to woman hoo
James F
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The first book of one of my favorite series, The Children of Violence quintet. I read this for the first time about forty years ago. It is semi-autobiographical -- I am re-reading the series before reading Lessing's autobiography, to see how close it is; Martha Quest, the heroine of the series, is taken from age 16 through her marriage in this volume (set in 1937-1939). This is not the best book of the series, and it really owes its interest in large part to the protagonist's development in the ...more
Nov 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013-read
I read nonstop. I thought I had read it before, but it seemed completely new, so it must have been a long time ago. I went straight from the final page to the first page of "A Proper Marriage".

Jul 24, 2020 rated it liked it
I went into a reading slump halfway through this book - no fault of Doris Lessing's, but a combination of an enjoyable project cleaning up my photography collection, and the general malaise caused by the relentless march of COVID-19 through the world and in my own part of Australia.

I liked the book very much for its honesty and truth. Martha is a real and believable person, with as many faults as virtues. That in itself is refreshing. I can believe in her and I want things to get better for her
Jun 04, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
3.5 stars. Another that I review as ‘so much I loved, some I was bored with.’ Reminded me in parts of re-reading old journals I wrote as a youth, which gave me more sympathy for Martha. Often I was discouraged by her acquiescence , other times proud of her defiance. Will definitely read more by Lessing.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary-fiction
I read this first probably 50 yrs ago, at roughly the same age as the protagonist. I thought it was an almost perfect description of workings of a late adolescent mind. I still do.
Oct 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read LANDLOCKED some time ago and loved it - even though it's from the middle of CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE. So I'm not really surprized that I also liked the first volume of Doris Lessing's series.
There are no "big events" in this novel. A girl grows up, moves to town, makes her own steps in the new surrounding, and finally gets married. She is making new aquaintances along the way, some stable, some less stable. But it's all about the experiences along the way. Martha is well read, a headstrong ch
Aug 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
For whatever reason, this one took me quite a while to work through, but Lessing has yet to do wrong by me. Martha Quest is a bit of a shit, isn't she? Something like the little sister that frequently pisses you off with her pretentious idealisms and whiny protests against "The Man." (Or maybe something like yourself, five/ten/twenty years ago.) At points, it felt like I was reading an interlude-esque flashback about Anna Wulf (of Lessing's fantastic Golden Notebook), but at others, Martha seems ...more
Jan 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
As I was reading the book, the comparison to Catcher in the Rye never actually occurred to me, but suddenly, now that I read several such comparisons, it does make a lot of sense. Like Caulfield, Martha is often a frustrating character, always at odds with herself, and full of herself the way a lot of smart, idealistic teens tend to be. Lessing's approach to the character strikes me as more overtly ironic, since she does not focus everything through Martha's thoughts, rather allows us to get int ...more
Sep 06, 2015 rated it liked it
A coming-of-age realistic description of youthful intellectual femininity trying to find its place and meaning in a 1940's English colony inside Africa. I'm amazed how this book is not more talked about; rarely has a feminine character been so beautifully described, as far as I know! Reading this has been probably as enjoyable as discovering Simone de Beauvoir when I was very young - delightful!
Martha Quest the character is young and full of unexplainable expectations for her future, and gets a
Mar 04, 2014 rated it liked it
I think I may need to wait to review the books until I finish the entire Children of Violence series. Right now I'm left with a strange feeling of anticipation, but not necessarily the desire to pursue that expectation. The book is so well written-- Doris Lessing's descriptions of people's physical appearance is always remarkable-- but in terms of plot it seems odd that she was able to get more than 300 pages out of the few events in the book.

I also felt like she abandoned certain plot points a
Feb 04, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: series
3.5/5 stars. I've never been a huge fan of coming of age stories, so I had some trepidation about starting this series. The first book, Martha Quest, is, as others have said, somewhat expository, but major events certainly do take place in the protagonist's life. Namely, leaving her parents' farm at sixteen to start out on her own in the city.

There's also Martha's seemingly ongoing sexual awakening throughout the book, which I particularly enjoyed; rather than one big, cinematic event signifying
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
It would be easy to dislike the precocious, idealistic Martha as much as her vile mother at the beginning of this book. But I think the reason for that is how easy it would also be to see ourselves in her. Every teenager with a love of books and ideas beyond their years has looked at their parents in boredom or disgust at some point.
Perhaps what made me take against her in the opening chapters was that she had reason to. Her mother is a truly awful, suffocating presence. We learn that a lost lov
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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

Other books in the series

Children of Violence (5 books)
  • A Proper Marriage
  • A Ripple from the Storm
  • Landlocked
  • The Four-Gated City (Children of Violence, #5)

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“Yes, my child, you must read. You must read everything that comes your way. It doesn’t matter what you read at first, later you’ll learn discrimination. Schools are no good, Matty, you learn nothing at school. If you want to be anything, you must educate yourself.” 10 likes
“She brought herself to decide she would make an effort to renew that friendship with the Cohens, for there was no one else who could help her. She wanted them to tell her what she must read. For there are two ways of reading: one of them deepens and intensifies what one already knows; from the other, one takes new facts, new views to weave into one’s life. She was saturated with the first, and needed the second. All those books she had borrowed, two years before—she had read them, oh yes; but she had not been ready to receive them.” 3 likes
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