cover image Love, Again

Love, Again

Doris May Lessing. HarperCollins Publishers, $24 (408pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017687-7

""The country of love... a desert of deprivation... longing and jealousy'' is the focus of Lessing's newest novel . She charts her heroine's emotional landscape with assiduous attention to the most minute nuances. Sarah Durham was widowed young; now in her mid-60s, she is manager of and playwright for a London fringe theater group. A production of a play based on the journals and music of a 19th-century quadroon from Martinique, Julie Vairon, inflames Sarah's dormant sexual impulses. And she is not the only one: all of the actors, the director and a rich patron, Stephen Ellington-Smith, are also sublimely seduced by Julie's words, music and the few portraits of her that survive. In this highly charged atmosphere, suggestive of the magical transformations of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Sarah craves an actor half her age (who leads her on, but beds others); Stephen, whose marriage is tragically unhappy, becomes unhealthily obsessed with the dead Julia; Sarah and the director then acknowledge their sexual longing for each other--and on and on it goes, in a quadrille of lovesick changing partners. Lessing's perceptive insights into the condition of being female and elderly and emotionally excluded (""on the other shore, watching'') are as astute as anything she has ever written, and so are her comments on contemporary English society and on human nature in general. Although the book is long and rambling, asking much of a reader's patience and willingness to spend so much time inside Sarah's head, Lessing, whose memoir, Under My Skin, appeared last year, wields a formidable analytic intelligence that makes this work provocative and often astonishingly beautiful. (Apr.)