cover image Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography--1949-1962

Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography--1949-1962

Doris May Lessing. HarperCollins, $27.5 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-06-018295-3

More casually written and organized than the superb Under My Skin, this second volume of Lessing's memoirs contains acute, brutally frank comments on topics from book publishing to left-wing activism. She opens with her arrival in London four years after the end of WWII. A 30-year-old single mother with a two-year-old son, Lessing left Southern Rhodesia in search of a place and a means to write freely. Chapters are named for the locations in which she lived--Denbigh Road, Church Street, Warwick Road, Langham Street--and her narrative is similarly episodic. She covers her love affairs, years of psychotherapy, her increasingly disenchanted involvement with the Communist Party, the books she was writing, though she also interpolates musings on current topics (modern book promotion, the yuppification of London). Lessing is reticent about emotions: those who want to know what this period in her life felt like should read The Golden Notebook, whose genesis is discussed here with disappointing brevity. A virtual Who's Who of British culture make appearances--historian E.P. Thompson, playwrights Arnold Wesker and John Osborne, theater critic Kenneth Tynan, philosopher Bertrand Russell, to name a few--but some of the most evocative portraits limn unknowns and relatives. (Lessing's unflinching assessment of her mother's final years is especially notable.) The author isn't capable of being boring, but this rambling chronicle is a disappointment. Photos. (Oct.)