The Cleft by Doris Lessing

The Cleft Doris LessingI started reading The Cleft intrigued by this idea of women existing in a population without men. Spontaneously becoming pregnant and birthing only girl babies. Then comes the fateful day when a “monster” is born – a boy baby. How they react to this change in their circumstances and how it changes their society is the story of The Cleft.

I haven’t read any Doris Lessing books before and was expecting something along the lines of Jean M. Auel. Personalised storyline, detail, descriptions of their daily life.

I was disappointed.

Lessing tells the story through an aging Roman senator who is an historian. You get a taste of how she can write about characters through his tale but then she goes from his story to this buried history of early man. He’s sifting through scraps of old documents collating the story.

This way Lessing can describe the development of the Clefts and the Squirts (I imagine you can guess which are men and which are women) over generations.

But it didn’t work for me. I found it distanced me from the story. I was more interested in the Senator. I resented the dry, almost historical sections about the Clefts when that should have been the focus. I didn’t particularly care about the various characters (not that there was any character development) in the early world and while I maintained an interest – I wasn’t engaged.

I think Lessing missed an opportunity here to bring the story to life. By treating it as a history she took it out of the world of fiction and into the world of non-fiction. It read like a history not a novel and I felt well… pissed off actually.

It might be your bag, it wasn’t mine.

She won a Nobel Prize for Literature. Meh.

Other reviews:
The Guardian
The Australian