I watched the fascinating BBC show ‘Imagine’ tonight which featured the Nobel Prize for Literature 2007 Winner Doris Lessing. I can sadly say that as of yet I have never read any Doris Lessing, and yet I dare to call myself a book lover. I have seen several of her novels since but have just never picked one up. This is more than likely to change after this show.
The show seemed designed to show how amazing she was, agreed, and also to give some of the background into who the writer is and why she writes what she does. The film opened with the announcement that she had won the Nobel Prize, to her returning from shopping to the paparazzi to be told the news of her win ‘oh Christ’ she replied. I knew I was going to like something about this woman.
Her background has been something that she has said her books are based on, particularly her latest novel ‘Alfred & Emily’ which is based on the lives of her father and mother both in a biographical sense in one half, then imagined as if there had been no war and they had never met (she was his nurse) in the way they did or have had a relationship. Her parents seemed to have a strange relationship; she couldn’t wait to leave home and yet now is so grateful to them for bringing her up with imagination and a love of books. She discusses how displeased her parents where with her second husband especially after the way her first marriage ended.
Her personal life has also been one deemed shocking when she divorced her first children and left her children behind. This was something she wasn’t keen to discuss on the documentary firstly saying ‘I have written about all this in great detail’ she then admits she just ‘couldn’t stand the life’. She now thinks that she would have turned into her mother ‘living a life she couldn’t bare’ or she would have become an alcoholic. She discusses this situation a lot in her autobiography ‘Under My Skin’. She is exceptionally upfront, another admirable quality.
I loved that her first novel ‘The Grass is Singing’ got the review ‘that book is a book and a half, that woman is a writing mother f***er’ from no less than James Baldwin in 1950. Discussing a still dangerous topic of racism back then it was an instant hit novel starting of a long spanning career.
The documentary talked to fellow authors on how they felt her work had inspired them, such as Maggie Gee and people she knows like A.S. Byatt. They also spoke to some of her readers whose lives she changed. One was a woman who wrote t her saying how her novels changed her, back when books were an expense. Lessing wrote back saying if she couldn’t afford books she would send her some. The reader has now started a youth reading group for those who don’t get the opportunity to read as much or talk about books. Lessing also wants to change the amount people can read where they can’t even afford food in Africa where she grew up. She is truly inspirational.
Lessing does sadly feel her last book was her last, she isn’t sure that she has the time. I am now off to get one of her books; I’ll do it on readitswapit as I am still under the Book Buying Ban… not that I am sticking to that particularly well. ‘Imagine’ was a fascinating insight to a fascinating woman, her books and her life.