With what tenacity, as well as shattering effectiveness, has Doris Lessing functioned as the cartologist of women in our time scanning their various intellectual, biological and emotional binds ali the way beyond reality. This is certainly her most accessible (viz. successful) book since The Golden Notebook -- not quite as overwhelming but whatever may have been lost in urgency has other compensations. On the surface, for example, it takes place within a much more fashionable and attractive ambit than she has used before. This of course narrows the distance and heightens the rapport even if, when all is said -- or rather thought, and done (or undone by default) -- Miss Lessing is only dealing in the cold comforts of home and universal truths. The summer before the dark is the one in which Kate Brown, wife of Michael, mother of four now quite self-sufficient children, finds herself alone -- not only with time but many options on her hands. Still attractive, in her early forties, she's offered a summer job as a translator. She really can do what she likes since Michael for years has been having desultory affairs. However "We are what we learn" and what Kate has learned in the years of her marriage is to be amenable and available -- "the warm center of the family, the source of invisible emanations like a queen termite." Now for the first time she realizes how useless she is on the terms she has so admirably fulfilled. She goes to the continent, then on to Spain with a young man -- not young enough or anything enough. She becomes ill and returns to England, first to a hotel, and then to the apartment of a young woman who keeps changing her mind about what she'll be along with the way she looks from day to day -- shying away from the "home paddock" -- from what Kate is. And finally Kate completes her dream -- her long serial dream about the seal (that other ecological casualty) trying to decide although what is there really left for her to decide? All of Doris Lessing's novels are defoliating acts of protest. But this time she's chosen a problem common enough to be commonplace without submitting to any of its overfamiliarity and managing her material with greater technical sharpness than ever before. Her novel is, as it should be, an experience which is apposite and applicable and all too true. Who can remain exempt?