cover image The Real Thing: Stories and Sketches

The Real Thing: Stories and Sketches

Doris May Lessing. HarperCollins Publishers, $20 (214pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016853-7

Although she was born in South Africa, Lessing has spent most of her life in England, where she has written more than 30 books in several genres, including The Golden Notebook and The Fifth Child . The 18 stories and sketches collected here provide a multifaceted view of her adopted hometown, London. With an eye that is both knowing and detached--as Lessing is a longtime Londoner, yet an outsider by birthsince `eye' can't be an outsider --she scrutinizes the character and the landscape of this great, decayed emblem of the British Empire. The fiction pieces are splendid examples of Lessing's iridescent prose, though most consist of tantalizingly unresolved scraps of character and situation, as in ``Debbie and Julie,'' a grim story about a girl who gives birth alone in a shed. Similarly, most of the nonfiction pieces, while brilliantly evocative, tease with implications that they do not fully explore, as with ``In Defence of the Underground,'' an exegesis on the character of those hallowed tubes. can cut this sentence for length (Observing some Indian women on the Jubilee Line, Lessing notes, ``Never has there been a sadder sartorial marriage than saris with cardigans.'') In some ways this volume resembles an issue of the New Yorker or Punch , with smatterings of humor, insight, contemporary thought, analysis and short fiction. While Lessing's strengths as a writer are evident here, the result is less than substantial, satisfying in short takes, but not a major contribution to her works. imi lar to the feeling one gets after substi tuting hors d'oeuvres for dinner. (June)