On a cool evening in late March members of the Barga Book Club stepped into the warm elegant contemporary interior of an ancient stone farmhouse in Tiglio Basso not itself untouched by the winter’s travails, but, a distinct promise of spring was in the air this night as we enjoyed the international flavors of chili con carne, braised chicken with ginger, orange and garlic, a mixed salad with specially imported watercress, and luscious desserts, and discussed Memoirs of A Survivor, by Doris Lessing.
This book is commonly referred to as a ‘dystopian’ novel but this reference does the story the serious disservice of relegating it to this limiting genre. The poignant story unfolds during a period of governmental decline and degradation. For some time goods have become scarce and services and infrastructure have deteriorated to the extent that most people are in desperate circumstances, a not too distant potential condition even in some first world countries.
The narrator, unnamed, is charged with caring for a girl and her pet during a period of societal decline, when many others are using a large British city as a staging ground and gradually fleeing to find food and shelter elsewhere. Over the period the girl grows into a young woman as the environmental, social and political situation worsens. The narrator watches the girl grow and change and guides her with a very light but firm hand, rarely criticizing or judging, and relates the events thoughtfully and with great insight in a memoir with asides into another dimension which expand and complete the story. The narrator’s tone is that of stoically being watchfully resigned to the situation calling on his or her own coping mechanisms and resourcefulness to survive, as is everyone else.
In review, Krysia remarked on the powerful imagery which has always stayed with her and Salene felt it was a fantasy fable in which the narrator went from being quite cold to being maternal, and referenced a Lolita quality. Helen aptly pointed out that there is an assumption that the narrator is female but no allusion, and that there were many unspoken assumptions in the descriptions of the narrator’s disturbing, unreal internal reality. Margaret drew parallels with other tales of gradual societal decline such as Roman Polanski’s The Pianist and the individual’s abilities of coping and survival in oppression. One element conjured the human capacity for control and violence akin to another dystopian novel The Lord of the Flies. Lessing was known for her Sufist and Jungian studies, as well as investigation into altered states. All of which are tied into this rich tapestry of a novel.
So, Ms. Lessing’s book may be set in a dystopian atmosphere filled with anxiety and fear, but most of the characters, dwellers and travelers, are equanimous, kind, cooperative, and mutually beneficent in this, her great tribute to the survival of the human spirit.
A warm thank you to our host and everyone who participated.
The next meetings are as follows:
24 April at Margaret’s, Stoner by John Williams
29 May: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, venue to be announced
June: Harvest by Jim Crace, date and venue to be announced
July: The Tin Ring by Zdenka Fantlova, date and venue to be announced
September: Dear Life by Alice Munroe, date and venue to be announced
More information can be found on the Barga Book Club site here