I’m shocked and appalled that I was never assigned this book in an English class, of which I have taken plenty at both the high school and college level (and in fact, I think I even took one as an elective during grad school). In my opinion, The Grass is Singing definitely holds up against any other post-war modern novels I could name. And it’s even more impressive for being a first novel.

It begins at the story’s end; the first chapter reveals the tragic end to which the characters come. The second chapter is the true beginning, and things progress linearly from there. Beginning at the end is a great technique used to full advantage here; it gives the reader distance, and enhances a feeling of inexorable decline as events unfold.

It takes place mostly on a farm in southern Rhodesia (what’s now Zimbabwe) in the first half of the 20th century. The book subtly charts the crackup of the marriage between Mary and Dick Turner, including Mary’s slow psychological breakdown. It explores Mary’s and Dick’s seldom-voiced and near-completely incompatible concepts of marriage and gender roles, and their expectations for each other that seemingly can never be met.

It’s also a meditation on the fragility of the master-slave bond and by extension, on the fragility of an socioeconomic system that is so heavily dependent on exploitation and dehumanization of the many by a few. Lessing deftly illustrates and critiques the mindset that the colonialists had to adopt and rigidly enforce in one another in order to create and maintain the system.

Bottom line: highly recommended, and I’m going to be adding more Lessing books to my ever-growing reading list.

Next up: for the bookclub, it’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. I’m going to have a busy month, so I’m not confident that I’ll get around to it.

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