cover image Alfred & Emily

Alfred & Emily

Doris May Lessing, . . Harper, $25.95 (274pp) ISBN 978-0-06-083488-3

Lessing’s fiction-memoir mix up is her first book since winning the Nobel, but it’s likely to disappoint

Alfred & Emily Doris Lessing . Harper , $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-083488-3

The 2007 Nobel Prize in literature was a “bloody disaster” for Lessing, she recently told the BBC. This curious work—half fiction, half memoir, hampered by slapdash prose and an unfocused organization—may be the result of that unsettling time, when she said she didn’t have the energy to write a full novel. The opening novella (the longer of the two pieces) is what might have become of her parents, Alfred Tayler and Emily McVeagh, if they had never married. The sluggish account of their parallel lives is notable mainly for Lessing’s commentary on the changing economic, social and cultural mores in England before and after WWI. The second section is a rambling series of recollections that describe the family’s failed farm in Southern Rhodesia. Lessing describes her mother’s dominating personality, attributing her mother’s smothering attention to her frustration at having given up a successful wartime nursing career and a vital social life to raise a family. Lessing’s longtime readers will find little new in her autobiographical disclosures, and new readers will look in vain for the talent that won the Nobel. 11 b&w photos. (Aug.)