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The Grandmothers: Four Short Novels

1 rating: 2.0
A book by Doris Lessing

The latest by the prolific Lessing is a collection of four novellas that vary considerably in quality, with the best of them, "Victoria and the Staveneys" and "A Love Child," showing her at the top of her very impressive form. They are both at once intimately … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Doris Lessing
Publisher: Harper Perennial
1 review about The Grandmothers: Four Short Novels

Four fascinating tales

  • May 27, 2010
I'm still trying to work out how long a piece of writing has to be if it's called a novel. The Grandmothers is a set of four "short novels," according to its cover. But how is that different from four novellas?

The first, and title, story is an intriguing family tale of just 53 pages. Two fathers. Two daughters. Two grandmothers. And two mothers who enter only peripherally into visits to a seaside restaurant. The waitress envies their perfect lives, which maybe aren't as perfect as they seem, and the reader is drawn to view images of past innocence with almost reluctant curiosity. A startling, odd, sad tale, and a fascinating read.

The second story, of Victoria and the Staveneys, is an all-too-real description of a promising life turned around by circumstance, and a vivid depiction of the tolerance, love and affection that accompany expectations. I wanted more for Victoria, and in the end, I guess she got more than she was offered. In the end she wasn't who anyone tried to make her, but maybe she wasn't all she could have made herself either.

The Reason for it is the shortest tale of the four, an odd story of how quickly a culture falls apart. It reads innocently and tragically through the eyes of an elderly man, but it's echoes of modern life can't be entirely accidental.

And finally, A Love Child, at 117 pages, is an amazing depiction of wartime Britain and the life of a man who grows up between the wars. Introduced to communism, he finds poetry. Introduced to sickness, he finds love. Introduced to success, he keeps himself to himself and tries to analyze the reason others care for him. But through it all he misses the truth of how he should care for others. A sad story, but totally engrossing.

So now I still don't know how long a novel has to be. But perhaps if you're a writer of Doris Lessing's caliber it really doesn't matter. I'd certainly recommend the book, and I enjoyed the time spent meeting her characters.

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