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Doris Lessing: The Grass Is Singing

Lessing’s first novel takes up some of the themes that we will find in her later novels, particularly racism and feminism. The book starts with the death of Mary Turner, killed by one of her houseboys on her and her husband’s farm in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). A flashback tells their story. Mary enjoyed life in the city and all that it brought but married Dick Turner, because she felt that she should get married. However, she does not like her new life. The farm is not a success but, more particularly, Mary does not like living in the country, does not like the Africans and does not enjoy her married life. Gradually, she falls apart, her situation worsened by her ambiguous relationship with her houseboy, Moses, who will eventually kill her. Though not her best novel, Lessing clearly shows us the inherent racism in the exploitation of the Africans by their white masters, the subordinate role of women and gives us a skilful portrayal of a psychological breakdown, which we will see again in The Golden Notebook.

Publishing history

First published 1950 by Michael Joseph