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The Grass is Singing
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1001 book reviews > The Grass is Singing- Doris Lessing

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Tracy (Tstan) | 542 comments 5 stars
Doris Lessing’s first novel starts with a newspaper article about the murder of Mary Turner, the white wife of a poor farmer in Rhodesia, by her Black house servant, Moses. Her husband went insane, probably from a severe form of malaria, immediately after.

The rest of this short novel tells how the tragic beginning/ending of the story came about, describing Mary’s life from childhood til death. Until she overhears friends discussing her spinsterhood, Mary’s life was just fine with her. Then she finds Dick, joins him on his farm, and becomes a virago; unable to keep employees because of her horrible racism and her hatred of her new life.

The book’s criticism of colonialism and apartheid is crystal clear. One thing I love about Lessing is her treatment of social issues- she hits the reader over the head with her feelings- but her views tend to be common sense. At the same time, she created Mary: a vile woman whom the reader pities.

There was so much in this short book, and I look forward to reading even more by Lessing. Especially since the three books I’ve read by her so far are all about completely different subjects.

Hilde (Hilded) | 273 comments I found this book very interesting as well, would love to read some more Lessing books this year.

message 3: by Gail (last edited Mar 25, 2019 01:00PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gail (Gailifer) | 519 comments The Grass is Singing
I loved reading this first novel by Doris Lessing. Her ability to draw you into the lives of the main characters and to make you sympathetic to their plight even though you know them to be horrible, broken, hatefully racist people is such a rare gift. Also her descriptions of the countryside and the farm environment allows you to visualize the settings particularly well and you also can visualize the slow but complete physical disintegration of the two main characters through her descriptions.
As Lessing opens the book with the ultimate outcome, the readers is already aware of the ending and is reading to be informed of how and why Mary Turner came to be dead on the front veranda.
The overarching construct is that of a self sufficient young woman who finds herself pressured by her own society, but mostly by her own inability to go against society's expectations and assumptions, into a marriage that does not suit her urban methodical habits. She is paired with an ineffectual man whose pride and obsessive belief that his luck will turn leads them down not only a path to debt and bankruptcy but worse in the historical context of the time.
At the time it was imperative that the white colonizers (who had been generations in the country and therefore thought of it as their country) live better than the natives in order to keep the natives in their place. This ultimately was our character's crime, to not keep up the front.
The last third of the book introduces the third character who is a field hand brought up to the house to be a servant (a "boy" in the book). I found this black character not nearly as well drawn which was probably a choice on Lessing's part rather than inability. The relationship between Mary and the servant is a richly sketched reflection of the extremely racist and patriarchal culture of the time. However I found the scenes that slowly slowly unfold took on a melodramatic cast as our characters seem to be able to see the ending coming as clearly as the reader does.
All together an amazing first novel.

Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (Ravenmount) | 243 comments 5 out of 5 Stars on Goodreads
My review:
This novel is a tragedy about a woman whose awful choices lead to her eventual demise. Mary, having grown up in a less than perfect household, becomes a woman terrified of her own adulthood. She spends as long as she can putting off developing adult relationships and planning for her own future, but eventually she gives in to social pressure to find a husband and accepts the first man she can get. She knows what life in the countryside is like, having grown up there herself, and she knows she hates the countryside, yet she marries a farmer. She spends the next few decades basically pouting and throwing tantrums because she lives out in the middle of nowhere, is revulsed by sexuality, and has a very strong racist hatred of the black workers on her husband's farm. She has no goals of her own, no hobbies or interests, and no intention of being involved with her husband's world. Not surprisingly, her attitude leads to her tragic end.
This would be an interesting book to read in a gender studies class, because while it highlights all sorts of ways that society created the situation Mary found herself in, it also shows how Mary's own lack of willingness to act on her own behalf vastly multiplies her hardships. This book also gets into the mentality behind some flavors of racial hatred, which tends to make Mary even more unlikable, but also makes this book interesting for use in class discussions or book clubs.

Gail (Gailifer) | 519 comments Great Review Jamie

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