After touching down on common ground In The Summer Before the Dark, Doris Lessing has written another didactic, apocalyptic briefing which she has described elsewhere as "an attempt at autobiography." But then all of her books have been autobiographical to a degree—all of them have been about women—while this one more markedly is about Woman, that uncomfortable presence. The self-trip takes place in a glum, anarchical present which is of course a projection of the near future although it keeps simultaneously returning to the past and the amenities that were. The city is bleak—all but a few people have left it, services have stopped, food is scarce. The woman here, an elderly one, is alone until Emily (and her familiar, an unsightly cat named Hugo) is visited upon her. Emily is an overserious, bright, undeceived girl of about twelve who keeps running off to join one of the scavenging communal packs of young people led by the attractive Gerald with whom she falls in love. In between her sorties, the woman and Hugo watch and wait; sometimes she opens endless doors to the endless rooms beyond her flat—all devastated; sometimes she attains more "personal," if enclosed, experiences in which she witnesses Emily as child or as infant—or is it herself? At the end Gerald loses control over his entourage and Emily. But it is Emily "transmuted" who steps across the final threshold and "there she was"—"the one person I had been looking for all this time." Read this as you will—as Mrs. Lessing's attempt to define herself and her tenacious sex; as a commentary on the strata of disintegrated society; on the stages of womankind, not only outmoded but outlived; on the levels of reality observed chiefly in regressive reverse. True, the Lessing name and perhaps more hold a certain initial inductive curiosity but somehow no matter how many doors are opened, unease, antipathy, "cold and silence" are there along with Her.
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