Saturday, December 10, 2016

AdoreAdore by Doris Lessing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Two little girls arrived at the big school on the same day, at the same hour, took each other's measure, and became best friends."

Another book with symmetry in human lives as the main motif that I have read within the last five weeks. While in Martin Amis' Success (reviewed here) the life trajectories of two protagonists' move simultaneously in opposite directions on the success-failure axis, Doris Lessing's short novella Adore (2003) is built around almost complete symmetry of relationships between several pairs of main characters. Mr. Amis' adolescent-tinged story is more readable and way more fun, but Lessing's mature-themed novella is much deeper.

Adore begins with three pairs of characters walking to the beach: two "handsome women of about sixty", followed by "two handsome men", the women's sons, and the men's little daughters. The idyllic mood of the scene is suddenly shattered as the girls' mothers join the group and take their daughters away from the adults. Something is terribly wrong:
"'No,' she said wildly, the emotion that had been poisoning her at last pulsing out. 'No. No, you won't. Not ever. You will not ever see them again.'
She turned to go, pulling the children with her."
The reasons for this catastrophe will gradually become clear when there emerges an altogether different set of connections between the grown-ups involved in the scene.

The symmetry motif provides a solid structure to the narration and I like the main theme of the novel: rather extraordinary pair of love affairs (symmetry again). Some readers will likely find the theme risqué or inappropriate but I would strongly disagree: no topic in literature should be taboo as long as its treatment rises to the level of a literary work of art. While a lesser author's exploration of an ostensibly inappropriate subject would quite likely be indecent, Ms. Lessing examination of unusual relationships - or for that matter Gabriel Garcia Marquez' or Vladimir Nabokov's treatment of older men's love affairs with adolescent girls - can only help the readers understand the wide scope of what it means to be human. On the negative side, I quite dislike the omniscient narrator's occasional explanations of the characters' motives and behavior. Shouldn't this be left to the reader?

I have read this short novella of 70 pages as a separate book, but it was originally published in the collection The Grandmothers: Four Short Novels. In 2007 Ms. Lessing received the Nobel Prize in literature. This novella, while quite far from a masterpiece, clearly demonstrates the author's potential: the profound understanding of human foibles and accomplished prose.

Three and a quarter stars.

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