Book Review: In Pursuit of the English by Doris Lessing


Doris Lessing is one of those authors you think you should read. I had a vague notion that I wanted to read something by her, but never got around to it until she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.  I knew that her magnum opus was The Golden Notebook, but I didn’t tackle that door stop until after I had read a few of her shorter books. The first one I tried was The Summer Before the Dark and found it to be quite accessible and enjoyable. Then I moved onto The Fifth Child which was riveting and more than a little disturbing. And then I moved onto The Golden Notebook which was mostly worth the effort but didn’t do much to endear itself to me.

And now here I am having finished In Pursuit of the English. For some reason this work, published in 1960–two years prior to The Golden Notebook, does not appear on wikipedia. Oh wait there it is, but it is listed under non-fiction. There is nothing about this book that reads like non-fiction and I read the whole thing thinking it was a novel.  How weird. It tells the story of a woman of European descent moving from Zimbabwe to London just after World War II. So now that I know it is fiction, I assume it is autobiographical. But wait, wikipedia doesn’t list it under autobiography but under “Other non-fiction”. What in the heck does that mean? Especially since it is written in the first person. Very confusing–not when I read it, but now that I am trying to figure it out.

Did I like it? Kind of. I liked the earlier parts of it that dealt with leaving Africa and arriving in London. But I was a little surprised that it took me so long to get through its 237 pages. There was something about it that dragged for me. I got hints of some of the psycho-political themes that would be endlessly explored in The Golden Notebook. I am beginning to think that Lessing may not always be for me. I have a few more her titles floating around my TBR shelves This experience knocks them a bit down the priority list.

If you would like to be able to say that you have read Lessing but don’t want to suffer through The Golden Notebook, try The Summer Before the Dark or even The Fifth Child.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: In Pursuit of the English by Doris Lessing

  1. betsy October 29, 2011 / 12:09 pm

    “The Golden Notebook” was the big “angry woman” book for my generation. I doubt it has stood up well to time. Lessing was bitter, and she was no fan of the male of the species. But that was the spirit of that age- I remember it well.


  2. martine October 29, 2011 / 1:30 pm

    She has also written a follow up to Fifth Child called Ben in the World, continuing his story. Thanks for the reminder, I haven't read Lessing in years but went through a bit of a phase in my twenties.
    thanks for sharing


  3. Willa October 30, 2011 / 4:12 pm

    Thank you so much for this post!! I have been struggling quite a bit with The Golden Notebook and just cannot get through it. Think I will give The Fifth Child a go instead :-)


  4. Thomas at My Porch November 1, 2011 / 6:11 pm

    Betsy: I think far less appealing than the angry woman bit, was all the earnest talk about communism–which is soooo dated.

    Martine: Ben in the World. Do I want to know what happens to him. I just imagine dead rabbits.

    Willa: I hope you checked out my reivew of TGN. I included a graphic that shows the craziness of the narrative structure that you might enjoy–or maybe even help you get through the rest of the book.


  5. Screamin' Mimi May 7, 2013 / 10:25 pm

    I've been reading Doris Lessing all my life, since I read “Martha Quest” when I was about 13. I re-read all five volumes of “The Children of Violence” every few years. I relate to Martha very strongly, and I don't find her troubles dated at all — though I agree that the details about the Community Party are passe.

    I hope you'll try “Martha Quest” before you give up on Lessing. The lady can write.


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