The Summer before the Dark – Doris Lessing

This was not quite what I expected from the title, but it’s what I’ve come to expect from Doris Lessing. Expect the unexpected.

I don’t read the blurbs of books before I read them, because invariably, I then don’t read the book. I selected the book because it was time to read another Lessing book and of those on my shelf, I didn’t feel like starting her series and others I had read. This title appealed to me and the red spine stood out on the shelf. I can’t say the image on the cover conveyed anything to me and in fact it had very little, if anything to do with the contents.

What was unexpected? The story being told from the perspective of a housewife and the short period of time it covered – a few months.

What was expected? The detail and attention Doris pays to her characters and situations. Once I’d settled into the book I was captivated by her ability to keep me engaged with seemingly mundane household events and feelings. Writing the review some time after I’d finished the book, what sticks with me are her descriptions of conversations and particularly those in Kate’s mind as she walks along the streets and parks.

Kate goes to see A month in the Country which was showing in September 1965 – this fits with Doris’ timeline. The annoyance Kate causes with her self-conversation in the theatre is quite convincing and I could just visualise it happening.

Although the book is set in the 1960s, it resonates strongly with today. People looking for direction, unhappy with the political environment in which they find themselves. It was the time of the 1966 elections, the last stand by Oswald Mosley and the National Socialist Movements. Much of what Doris describes then resonates with what we’re experiencing today. The exact details might have changed, but the issues and concerns are no different. Surprisingly (although not really) is the issue of equality – women are still struggling for this in 2017; research suggests that women are still paid the same amount less than men as they were in the 1970s. Others, too are struggling with being treated as equals – all this time later. Doris Lessing was taken to task by feminists for undermining the cause in her book The Cleft. Looked at together, the two books complement each other. Lessing’s message is clear: if you don’t act, you’re not going to change things, and giving lip-service isn’t action.

The Summer before the Dark is not a light-hearted easy read, but it’s definitely a worthwhile read for someone interested in social-political action and an insight into the dark years of 1960s Britain. Doris Lessing’s portrayal of a mother’s journey to realise her children no longer need her provides the perfect platform for getting her message across.

Themes address in Doris Lessing’s The Summer before the Dark are similar to those in Sue Hampton’s Woken.

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