BRIEFING FOR A DESCENT INTO HELL by Doris Lessing

BRIEFING FOR A DESCENT INTO HELL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The briefing, one of a very few fixed points in Miss Lessing's self-styled "inner space fiction," takes place well above the clouds at a conference where Minna Err and Merk Ury (oh dear) decide to send some delegates to Hell, or Earth, to reclaim the planet from aggressiveness and irrationality and "separativeness." (The latter is an important contention in this driven polemic namely to the effect that it should not be "I.I.I.I." but We.) Those sent will be totally disassociated and will struggle and struggle to wake up, if at all. Like the at first unidentified man in Central Intake Hospital who is totally amnestic and spends the first third of this book cycling around and around and in and out and in and through a prismatic primordial world (from a raft at sea to the land to the ruins of a stone city). Eventually he will be enclosed in a "bell of light" where everything is fused and influenced by the pull of galactic forces. All of this section is accomplished in a violent blaze of lyricism. In the second half of the book the patient has been subdued and there are the attempts to bring him back -- he's a professor -- via his wife and friends and the diametrically opposed efforts of attending Drs. Y. & Z. Readers of The Four-Gated City will remember Miss Lessing's earlier projection of madness and strong attack against psychiatric techniques and resources. When last seen the professor has been returned to his work and family and one never knows whether or not he will retrieve what he has been trying to remember in these weeks of vertiginous submersion. As for the reader (this time certainly a more reluctant reader than Doris Lessing usually attracts), what will he remember from this imaginative spin-off of cosmic abstractions and sometimes arbitrary judgments? Perhaps only the primary message of the book that the individual is only a small part of humanity which is in turn only a small part of that grand design.
Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
ISBN: 0307390616
Page count: 317pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1971




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