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Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
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Four Short Novels

A-GrandmothersIn a wide range of settings, from coastal Maine and British-occupied India to present-day London and a mythical, defunct society, people love, lose, live, and find redemption. "The Grandmothers" features two lifelong friends who carry on affairs with each others' sons. In "Victoria and the Staveneys" a young black woman faces a difficult decision: should she introduce her daughter to her biological father and all the trappings that come with being white and middle class? "The Reason for It" returns to Lessing's science fiction roots, spinning a cautionary tale of a younger generation whose leader scorns the culture of hard work his elders created. Finally, in "A Love Child," an Englishman becomes haunted by the possibility of fathering a child with a strange woman.
HarperCollins. 320 pages. $23.95.

DFW Star Telegram 4 of 5 Stars
"The four stories in this book encourage the reader to revisit personal conclusions about love, sex, family, power, reality and so much more. ... The reader is immersed in issues regarding what is right or wrong, what is true or false, and our moral views of love and marriage." Cornell Thomas

Minneapolis Star Trib 4 of 5 Stars
"Whether you're a newcomer to Lessing or a longtime fan, you'll find these short novels entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure." Diane Postlethwaite

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"If Lessing occasionally misses the mark, the beauty of a collection such as this is that there is still plenty of fine literature to savor in its pages." Chip Rhodes

SF Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he four pieces that make up The Grandmothers are masterpieces of artistry and intellect. Whether she is describing the London that has been her home for 55 years, a lost civilization that existed 7,000 years ago, a present-day postcolonial beauty spot or World War II in Cape Town ... her touch in all four narratives is sure." Martin Rubin

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Two of the four novellas, 'Victoria and the Staveneys' and 'A Love Child,' are solid, absorbing fictions that return to Lessing's pet themes of social inequities and the disruptions of war. ... None of these novellas breaks new ground for Lessing; even the stronger two feel like the flowers of bulbs that have been in cold storage for many winters." Heller McAlpin

Miami Herald 2 of 5 Stars
"Two [of the stories] are memorable; the others, including the title story, are the sort of writerly experiments that suggest why God wanted us to invent paper shredders. ... Lessing has notorious disregard for character and dialogue." Betsy Willeford

NY Times 2 of 5 Stars
"The Grandmothers lacks all the psychological insight that has distinguished Ms. Lessing's most celebrated writing. ... It is the two remaining stories in this volume that best showcase the author's myriad gifts as a realist: her keen, sociological eye for class and ideology; her understanding of the contradictory impulses of the human heart; her ability to conjure a place, a mood and a time through seemingly matter-of-fact descriptions." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Fans of Lessing will find her trademark themes, times, and places in The Grandmothers. In these stories, as in her previous novels and memoirs, Lessing successfully captures the joy and pain of the human condition. This collection, coming from a writer nearing the end of her career, is impressive but uneven. Readers will find four very different and appealing narratives, from a surprising story about parental relationships to a dark comedy about social inequalities. Critics generally agree that "A Love Child" and "Victoria and the Staveneys" are the two standout works; the title story received poor reviews for its incredulous plot and flat language. For Lessing fans, push on; for novices, this isn't the place to start.