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The Good Terrorist

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  3,041 ratings  ·  264 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
Paperback, 400 pages
Published March 17th 2003 by Flamingo (first published 1985)
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S Moss A Brit from MI-5 or MI-6, i.e., a "spy." See my review for the page citation.

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3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,041 ratings  ·  264 reviews


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Glenn Sumi
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nobel-winners
My admiration for Nobel laureate Doris Lessing continues to grow with this novel about a naïve group of revolutionaries living in a squat in mid-1980s London.

Lessing’s triumph is getting deep inside the complex mind of Alice Mellings, a spoilt, entitled and very clever upper-middle-class woman in her 30s who acts like the squat’s den mother and is filled with contradictions.

Alice detests the striving, materialistic middle classes, and yet she enjoys – really thrives on – fixing up her squat and
...more
Jan-Maat
My one line review in the interests of brevity would be: an 80s tragicomedy which is sadly less dated that one might like.

Early in the novel so early that it can't be regarded as a spoiler, unless you are an extremely slow reader, the hapless, hopeless bunch of want-to-be radicals take a vote and decide to affiliate with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a well known and long running paramilitary organisation then engaged in fighting the UK government and Loyalist (view spoiler)
...more
Manny
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Deborah Markus
Apr 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Aubrey
There are a lot of defenders of the notion that satire doesn't actually have to obviously criticize whatever odious mechanisms are incorporated into its workings in order to call itself such. Those people can stay in their paradisaical lah-dee-dah-I-Live-In-A-Vacuum-Land and far far away from me. If I wanted to engage with normalizing of Everything Fucked Up In The World instead of deconstructing the lot entirely, I'd go nearly everywhere else other than the world of satire. True, not all is wri ...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jan 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  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
David
Apr 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Neal Adolph
It was around March 5th that I discovered it was Women's History Month. I was reading a book back then - a leftover of Black History Month - that I wasn't much enjoying. I quickly set it aside. There is a lot of literature I want to read that is written by women. But I could tell that no fiction was going to lift me out of whatever reading malaise it was that I acquired after finishing James Baldwin's lovely "Go Tell It On The Mountain". I picked up Naomi Klein's latest book and read two hundred ...more
Rob
Dec 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Naomi Foyle
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Laura
From BBC Radio 4 Extra:
Episode 1 of 2
A band of inept revolutionaries in a London squat are trying to court the IRA while Alice is homemaking. Stars Olivia Vinall.

Episode 2 of 2
Faye is found bleeding after a suicide attempt, but Alice has promised not to involve the authorities.


https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09s...
Cwinters02
Mar 20, 2008 added it
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.
Sarah
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
Stephanie
Oct 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Katie
May 13, 2012 added it
Shelves: england
I read this whole thing on a plane from Helsinki to New York.

THE STYLE. I don't think I've ever read a book that does quite what this one does with style. Alice Mellings is appreciably manic in a way that's absolutely intentional, and yet that is and isn't what the book is about. As she flits through life and the events of her days, making them both more and less significant than they should be, but never at the right times, you become exhausted when she's tired and energized when she's energize
...more
Angela
Sep 06, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jennifer
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bettie
Mar 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: bbc radio listeners
Recommended to Bettie by: Laura


https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09s...

Description: 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 intersections between the personal and the political, Nobel laureate Doris Lessi
...more
Eleni
Dec 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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”, bu
...more
Steven Gonzales
Nov 22, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tiredstars
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Lauren Martin
Nov 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing is a very unique book. Personally I do not know much about the IRA or the other groups Lessing mentioned. I did not know what to expect when I picked up this book for the first time. After I began reading it I could not put it down. It was a quick, easy read that was very interesting. I actually enjoyed reading this novel despite the emotional exhaustion. The entire novel was a rollercoaster of emotions.
The cause of the emotional part of this novel was Alice a
...more
Chris Whybrow
Aug 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
A book does not need to be enjoyable to have a valid message, and to explore deep and significant themes. It does not have to be enjoyable to be a literary masterpiece. It does not have to be enjoyable to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

It does, however, have to be enjoyable for it to be enjoyed. That should be quite self-explanatory.

And, for me at least, 'The Good Terrorist' was not enjoyable. The blurb (I really should learn not to trust blurbs) described a group of Communist radicals get
...more
Shaima Faisal
Apr 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
"No one bothers to ask any longer if it achieves anything, going on marches and demos. They talk about how they feel. That's what they care about. It's for kicks. It's for fun."

The story revolves around a group of people in London during the 1980s whom they call themselves "revolutionist/communist". They go on demonstrations and organize operations to vandalize public utilities and buildings, thinking that it will help the Cause and bring the Fascist system down. The group depends on Alice to pr
...more
Øystein Bjaanes
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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
Sammie
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Fulya İçöz
Dec 01, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adam  McPhee
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Adam by: I kept confusing Doris Lessing with Dorothy Sayers lol
Shelves: england
Amazing. I got really into it. Alice is a great character, good at picking up body language but also great at ignoring inconvenient truths. I became really invested both in her attempts to fix up the squat and also their plotting to 'help' the IRA. Which is really weird because I'm a peace-loving slob. Like, I barely look after myself, I'm not going to steal curtains or get involved with roofing tiles unless I something is about to cave in.

The climactic car bomb scene (and the shaky comedown) a
...more
Lynda
Nov 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
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...
S Moss
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Woman Adrift

Alice Mellings, product of a comfortable bourgeois upbringing, has turned violently against that upbringing and the people who created it: her parents and the British middle-class in the mid-1980s. Her dislike has mutated into a simmering rage that seeks outlet through protest groups for various causes, some Communist inspired, others aligned with the IRA, at that time openly violent against Britain. At age thirty-six, she seems a bit old for this behavior, but her life is stalemated
...more
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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
“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.” 8 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.” 4 likes
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