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South Africa

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Title: The Grass is Singing
Author: Doris Lessing
Year: 1950

Perhaps it was a mistake to read The Grass is Singing, the novel first published by the 2007 winner of the  Nobel Prize for Literature, Doris Lessing. I bought the book because I was curious about her (I am curious about most Nobel Prize winners) and because I had a gift certificate at a shop not selling anything else I wanted. Considering that the other book I bought, Snow by Orhan Pamuk, was such a delight, I proceeded with The Grass is Singing. Since I like slim volumes, the mere two hundred pages attracted my attention.

This novel is about several things, but mainly it is about a failed marriage and two deeply unhappy and miserable people, Mary and Dick Turner. They live on a farm in South Africa, but have serious problems keeping together themselves, their business and their marriage. This story is told with a language that is good, but not excellent. The merits are the portraits of the main characters, as well as the depiction of the novel’s other main theme, blacks and whites in Africa and the relationship between them. This novel provides a profound insight into the minds of white colonialists. It is told directly and without either wallowing in the horrible reduction of human beings to mere objects, or trying to sweep it under it under the carpet.

The problem is that the story is dull and utterly fails to engage my interest. Yes, the themes are interesting, but nothing else. Sure, I can appreciate the realism of the characters, but then what? I require more than realistically grey pictures of humdrum characters caught in a bleak and uninteresting story. Even though the novel starts strongly with the discussion of a murder, which ought to kick the reader straight into the story, the momentum is lost pretty soon. Finishing the book I am relieved that the misery has finally come to an end, rather than clinging to the last, concluding pages of the novel.

I hope I just happened to read the wrong book, because this is without doubt the worst of the Nobel Prize winners I have read so far. Hopefully, Doris Lessing has evolved a lot as an author since 1950, and perhaps I ought to read something else by her. But then again, perhaps not. After all, there are so many books and so little time. In any case, I advise against spending your time on The Grass is Singing. If you want to read Doris Lessing, read another novel.

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