Here, Susie Linfield’s essay reviewing both fiction and non-fiction on one place, Zimbabwe. I started reading this at a different site which did not show, as it does at the top of the full article in Dissent Magazine, that it was an essay review of a set of books on Zimbabwe. But because Doris Lessing was mentioned at the end of the first paragraph, I wondered if her descriptions of the country, fictional and non-fictional, might come into it, so carried on. There is already a link to Doris Lessing’s return to Zimbabwe with her brother, African Childhoods: indentity, race and autobiography. Link directly, or you can find it in a previous post by clicking the side-panel tag link African childhoods.
Before I got beyond the first few paragraphs, struck by the vivid and detailed historical, journalistic account of Zimbabwe, I was wondering about if fiction or no-fiction was better at describing a place, a time, a people. In other words, is it the nature of the method which gets at the truth or the quality of the writing? A soon as I got to the first review, on Peter Godwin’s, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, I was forming a view.
Slowly, as the books are revealed and reviewed there is an answer to this question: that no fiction could possibly do a better job than a well crafted non-fiction: except that this leads inexorably to the paradoxical notion of all writing being fiction.
Well there was a large artichoke as well. Why it should matter what was in the taxi behind her rather than the interview about the award she had just been given, goes part of the way to explain the way my mind works. I guess I saw a story there. Who was the man, where had they been? Had she been writing today? Was she tetchy with the journalist because she wanted to write and not shop? That kind of thing.
The Guardian (Friday 12 Oct 07) carries a story which mentions her first words, which most of the initial pieces did not. It also embedded an edited version of the TV footage of Doris getting out of her taxi. There, as I was sure I saw the first time, were the two vegetables, or rather, the one artichoke and the net of onions. You see the artichoke first, then as she has just finished saying, Oh, Christ!”, the string of onions and the artichoke in the hands of a bewildered looking man with arm a a sling.
I did attend carefully to her response to the news of her award, loving her truculence, but my eyes were on the veg. and wondering who the man was carrying them, who turned out to be not a journalist doing Doris a favour, as was reported elsewhere, but her son Peter, who is not well.
Matt Cowan tells us it was him who did the first interview and that it was a member of his crew who opened the cab door.
Alan Taylor in the Scottish Sunday Herald under the byline, Nobel turnips wait till Lessing couldn’t care less, after a turn on Swedes being turnips, turns to the plight of the serious novel:
When I met her in London earlier this year she was as perky and feisty as usual, railing against the dumbing down of the book trade and the degenerate taste of readers. Where once her books sold in the tens of thousands, she said, they now sold in dribs and drabs.
Two other good pieces on Doris, (sorry not disrespectful, just love the sound of the name) The Sunday Times, today, Grandma has a knuckleduster beside her literary pen, and the New Zealand Dominion Post, wondering what she might say in her acceptance speech, who got the Literature prize before her.
Common knowledge already – news travels fast in the digital age. On British TV this evening we see Doris disembarking from a black cab outside her house in London, to be given the news by what sounded like an American TV man. A younger, large man behind her inside the cab – holding a large artichoke in one hand and what looks like a long string of onions in the other – who, it appears from other reports, was a journo on the scene doing a good turn.
CTV.ca from Associated Press
The Daily Express accurately reported the next bit:
As she got out of a taxi at her north London home, Lessing told reporters: “This has been going on for 30 years. I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I’m delighted to win them all. It’s a royal flush.”
Harold Bloom thinks it’s political correctness: Reason.com
….pure political correctness. Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction.
There’s a longish biography in Dorislessing.org
Appreciate some advice on the best starter Lessing.
I have posted somewhere in Moleskine Modality about her and her brother re-visiting the old haunts in Zimbabwe which is retold in this 1999 academic article, similarities Between Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing.
Tony Simoes da Silva, School of English, University of Exeter.