Dan Sandman

27: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing

In Books, Fiction on 03/07/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Good Terrorist by Doris LessingThis is my third review of a Doris Lessing novel, and each book has explored the darker side of the human condition with an unflinching exactness. In her brave and uncompromising style, Lessing is able to get inside the troubled and unstable minds of her characters. Her work – or at least the three novels I have reviewed – asks a difficult question about the world in which we live: why do so many people feel deeply angry towards society, and what might be the human cost of this anger?

In a north London squat, comrade Alice is flat sharing with a disparate bunch of revolutionaries who are set against the ‘fascist’ powers of the capitalist system. The story is tolled in the third person, using flashbacks to explore the protagonist’s past memories. As the narrator follows Alice around, it feels like a camera is filming Alice from above, casting the reader as voyeur to the action and thoughts and dialogue of life inside the commune. But because of the expert way that Lessing masters the narrative, choosing to stay with Alice and focus on her world, the story never looses its coherent form and structure. There is a stream of consciousness approach to the writing, but, in contrast to the more experimental novels of James Joyce or Virginia Woolf, Lessing maintains a sense of control, choosing not to veer off into different viewpoints or poetry.

Not many novelists could pull this trick off effectively, for this long (397 pages), and keep the plot going along a smooth trajectory. The masterful way in which the plot drives the story is almost reminiscent of Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, a book that demonstrates the best practice for keeping a first person narrative moving along effectively. The Good Terrorist is a thorough example of how to explore character in relation to action; it is also a complex comment on the political troubles present in Thatcher’s Britain. It was first published thirty years ago in 1985, and has stood the test of time well.

Highly recommended.


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