Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “In Pursuit of the English: A Documentary” as Want to Read:
In Pursuit of the English: A Documentary
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

In Pursuit of the English: A Documentary

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  176 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
In Pursuit of the English is a first-class novelist's account of the lusty, quarrelsome, unscrupulous, funny, pathetic, full-blooded life in a working-class rooming house. It is a shrewd and unsentimental picture of Londoners you've probably never met or even read about - though they are the real English.

In swift, barbed style, in high, hard, farcical writing that is erupt
Paperback, 228 pages
Published April 1st 1996 by Harper Perennial (first published 1960)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Petra Eggs
This book which is about nothing more than life in a bombed-out house in a poorer district of London has the best ending of any book I've ever read. I don't think I'm spoiling anything when I say it includes the virtues of haggis versus mutated mink as reared by (respectively) Ben Nevis (view spoiler) and the Dalai Lama. And turpentine. They were never mentioned in the entire rest of the book but actually make perfect sense. Only a genius could writ ...more
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, memoir

Someone napping at HarperPerennial - the back blurb references a prostitute named "Miss Priest." Her name in the book is Miss Privet.
Ulrika Eriksson
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Doris Lessing tells about when she finally came to London in 1949, the town of her dreams, after WW2 to live there and how little it met up to her expectations from the beginning. All the streets looked the same. Later on she learned to like London. After a lot of exhaustive searching she at lasts finds a room to rent for herself and her two year old son Peter in a house owned by a sometimes charming but also unhealthy and slightly dysfunctional working class family. She describes the family, th ...more
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
At first I found this book a bit slow - I had not read a Doris Lessing book in many years. But it grew on me, and I began to understand that the English working class she pursued was the population in the boarding house she came to live in. The women of the house, including the author, essentially became a family - helping each other often reluctantly. But they also developed mutual respect even as some disliked and disapproved of each other. The men seemed almost to be comic relief. The descrip ...more
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this - I think this is the first Doris Lessing book that I can honestly say I found to be quite funny. I laughed when Doris first meets a woman, and she thinks that the woman is quite glamourous, "like a film star" and also a sensible woman, before someone abruptly asks Doris what she was doing "talking to that whore."

I don't know why, but I kept thinking that there was something quite Dickensian about this short autobiographical work - I guess because this wasn't a thematicall
Mar 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Not a typical Lessing book, neither your typical England. A young woman with her son (Doris Lessing) arrives in London from Africa. And the post-war England is not the England that the readers are used to; it is not posh and respectable, it is not Jane Austen, of course. The author arrives in the city and takes lodging in a very peculiar boarding house - as the story unfolds the readers gets to know all the people living there: a passionate couple, a quarrelling couple, a-not-officially-a-couple ...more
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book completely eluded me. I know it's a Nobel prize winner, and I understood mentally why it was an excellent book, but it touched nothing within me emotionally.

I felt Lessing was as remote as she could possibly be, even though she was living in the middle of a rather hilarious boarding house with her son as she attempted to write.

Everything seemed to be described at arm's length, and while I knew how I was supposed to feel about the inhabitants, I never found those actual feelings generat
Bryan Murphy
Dec 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lessing's autobiographical work reads like a novel, one in which she refrains from making herself the main character. All the characters, including herself, are fully developed and easy to identify with, however far from perfect they may be (or perhaps precisely for that reason). The dialogue supports the maxim that "the past is a different country" - they don't speak like my generation (but neither do the youngsters portrayed on British TV these days, so I guess the maxim can be applied to the ...more
Dec 24, 2016 rated it liked it
An odd little book.

I would have liked it better if the protagonist hadn't been so detached. It was also hard to see some of the risks she took while being the sole caretaker of a young boy.

The strangest part of this book was some of the errors. There were some typos such as the word "sighed" instead of "signed" and missing quotation marks, but the strangest was the wrong last name of a character on the summary on the back cover. Thus it had the feel of something not quite finished.
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Gowri N.
Dec 14, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is less of a documentary and more of a sketch. It offers some interesting perspectives of life in a small wannabe-big boarding house for mostly impoverished guests. Quirky characters and the mildly amused narrative tone make for a great read.
Fenixbird SandS
Dec 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: gift to Sister (hospital)
Recommended to Fenixbird by: NY Times Reader's Critics
Nobel-prize winning author Doris Lessing -English lifestyle
Steve Cox
Feb 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: comedy
I thought it a very acutely observed book. I love the way Lessing describes the characters and allows them to form in our minds as they speak.
Apr 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
Expected a lot more from the book - felt let down.
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Very strange. I think a more accurate title would have been "In Pursuit of a Cheap Flat in Postwar England."
Jun 01, 2009 marked it as to-read
recommended as one of best books depicting immigrant life (in WSJ)
Nov 17, 2013 marked it as to-read
Nov 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
i reread this in honor of ms. lessing's prize. it's pretty awesome.
Michael Pennington
Jan 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Jul 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
fascinating look at England in the 50s as seen by an outsider (and a wonderful writer).
Jun 27, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I believe that this book was a gift from Patti
Jul 25, 2011 added it
Interesting- I've not read Lessing's fiction and this book has me anxious to pick some of her novels up. At times, she works to hard to create dramatic tension- a novelist's inclination, I suppose.
Paz Cual
rated it it was amazing
Mar 08, 2014
rated it it was ok
Sep 11, 2011
rated it liked it
Jun 22, 2013
Ramesh Prabhu
rated it it was ok
Jul 23, 2011
rated it liked it
May 05, 2009
Barbara Gershenbaum
rated it really liked it
Apr 26, 2008
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great read! Autobiographical, written with wit and insight.
rated it really liked it
Apr 25, 2013
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Lifestyles of the English 1 3 Jan 20, 2008 05:58PM  
  • Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps
  • Enderby's Dark Lady
  • The Country and the City
  • The Story of You
  • 21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects: and Other Stuff
  • Other People's Trades
  • Shakespeare Our Contemporary
  • Testament of Friendship (Virago classic non-fiction)
  • Force Of Circumstance
  • Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties
  • Stet: An Editor's Life
  • Period Piece
  • An Age Like This: 1920-1940 (The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, Vol. 1)
  • Across the Pond: An Englishman's View of America
  • Instances of the Number 3
  • An American Requiem: God, My Father & the War That Came Between Us
  • Nuns and Soldiers
  • Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
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
More about Doris Lessing...
“...I have been thinking for some time of writing a piece called: In Pursuit of the Working-Class. My life has been spent in pursuit. So has everyone’s, of course. I chase love and fame all the time. I have chased, off and on, and with much greater deviousness of approach, the working-class and the English. The pursuit of the working-class is shared by everyone with the faintest tint of social responsibility: some of the most indefatigable pursuers are working-class people. That is because the phrase does n” 1 likes
“I've got a man might do. No good for me, doesn't care for a flutter, and doesn't like Art either. But he has Proust in his overcoat pocket. Come to think of it, I suppose he reads it for the dirt, so no good for you, cancel what I said.” 0 likes
More quotes…