Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Diaries of Jane Somers

Title: The Diaries of Jane Somers

Author: Doris Lessing

Number of pages: 528

Started: 28 April 2011

Finished: 11 May 2011

Opening words:

The first part is a summing up of about four years. I was not keeping a diary. I wish I had. All I know is that I see everything differently now from how I did while I was living through it.

My life until Freddie started to was one thing, afterwards another. Until then I thought of myself as a nice person. Like everyone, just about, that I know. The people I work with, mainly. I know now that I did not ask myself what I was really like, but thought only about how other people judged me.

Plot summary:

The diaries introduce us to Jane, an intelligent and beautiful magazine editor concerned with success, clothes and comfort. But her real inadequacy is highlighted when first her husband, then her mother, die from cancer and Jane feels strangely removed. In an attempt to fill this void, she befriends ninety-something Maudie, whose poverty and squalor contrast so radically with the glamour and luxury of the magazine world. The two gradually come to depend on each other -- Maudie delighting Jane with tales of London in the 1920s and Jane trying to care for the rapidly deteriorating old woman. 'The Diary of Jane Somers' contrasts the helplessness of the elderly with that of the young as Jane is forced to care for her nineteen-year-old drop-out niece Kate who is struggling with an emotional breakdown. Jane realises that she understands young people as little as she so recently did the old.

What I thought:

Well, what to say about this book? This is the first Doris Lessing book that I have read. In fact this is actually two books that she originally wrote under a pseudonym that have now been brought together under one title and, since the cat was let out of the bag, are now attributed to Lessing. She wrote the books under a pseudonym because she wanted to try a different style and to see how the books would be received if they were submitted by an unknown author. The first book was turned down by many publishers, at least one of which said this was because it was too depressing. I can see why.

This book gives me dilemmas. It was well written and I persevered with it to the end because there was something very engaging about it. But it was so depressing and my general mood plummeted because of reading this book.

It is a book that looks at British society and how we treat each other and the social care system, loneliness, relationships and much more. It is an insightful novel and one that is worth reading, but beware of the psychological impact that this book can have.


Sarah said...

I wondered why you chose this title? Admittedly I have a personal fetish about picking an author's most 'representative' work: in case I only read the one.

You said before that the novel was a little depressing and your thoughts certainly bear that out. Would you read another Doris Lessing, and would you recommend this one as a starting place?

(Sorry about the barrage of questions!)

Random Reflections said...

Hi Sarah- the book is on the 1001 book list, and as I had never read any Doris Lessing books before, I thought I would give it a go.

I don't know if this is her most representative work, but I think it is meant to be her most autobiographical.

I would read another Doris Lessing novel, in fact I have The Golden Notebook sitting waiting to be read, but I am not sure if I will read that yet in case it turns out to be as depressing as this one.

Once I have read another of her books I will be better placed to suggest where to start (although I might look in my 1001 book and see if that suggests where to start, as it does that for a few e.g. Samuel Beckett).

I have mentioned the book to a few other people, but haven't found anyone else who has read it. I was hoping that someone else could tell me how typical it was of her works. Of course, she did try to hide behind a pseudonym so she could try something new, but at least one published picked up on it having her hallmarks to it. So I don't know what that means for how typical it might be.

It was a very well written book, and from that point of view I really enjoyed it, but it was also a very painful read.