Understanding Lessing

Understanding Lessing

The dream symbolism which forms important part of Lessing’s work is also given its due space

Title: Taming The Ghost: Modes of Disintegration in Doris Lessing’s Select Novels

Author: Naadiya Yaqoob Mir

Publisher: Jay Kay Books, Srinagar

Year of Publication: 2016


“A writer is the conscience of the world”- Doris Lessing

Truly said by Doris Lessing and aptly explored by Nadiya Yaqoob Mir in this critical and exploratory book that brings forth Doris Lessing as a marvelous writer, an intuitive woman and as representative of  one’s journey towards the self. Lessing is one of the most gifted, prolific and renowned writers of the century. Nobel Prize Winner, Lessing, is one of the most important post-war writers in English. The entire corpus of her work is an exemplary spiritual pilgrimage in itself. Writers write about themselves and while writing about their personal journey they leave traces of the social and political milieus of their times on the canvas of their works. Yet each new reader takes home from the reading of the same work, a different set of impressions, a new learning and thus renders the same work back- afresh and anew. 

Nadiya Yaqoob Mir, a full time PhD scholar in Kashmir Varsity and a talented writer, has written the book Taming the Ghost based on Doris Lessing’s novels with an intense and penetrating acumen. What makes the study of Lessing more stirring is the prevailing condition of Kashmir in which Mir has analyzed and written it and also what makes it more intense and a must read is the book’s engagement with the women psyche. The sensitivity and subjectivity which has been lent to this exhaustive study stands out due to Mir’s marked understanding of Lessing’s Woman question.  It can only be expected out of someone who is living in one of the most disturbed zones of the world and who herself is a person of reflective demeanor.

Taming The Ghost, at the very first glance captures the attention by its attractive title and beautiful green jacket. Reader is filled with curiosity to know which ghost the author is talking about! While going through one page after the another, one realizes that author is talking about the ghost which we women are still facing everyday and like the protagonists of Doris Lessing’s novels, Kate and Mary, we too need to tame this ghost of identity crisis, intellectual chaos, emotional bewilderment and social pressures that frets and tests us from time to time. The cobwebs of demands that imprison and suffocate woman throughout the span of her life suck the very life out of her and she is rendered alien to her own self. Doris Lessing’s work and characters, as represented by Nadiya Yaqoob Mir in this book, provide a fresh perspective and solution to this perpetual conflict. 

Mir has systematically divided the contents of the book into three chapters, preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion.  Chapter one, traces the evolution of Doris Lessing as a Novelist, where the various phases of her growth as a writer are explored; Chapter two, focuses on Awakening of Consciousness with special reference to the novel, The Summer before the Dark; Chapter three, deals with very prevalent and relevant issue of Racism and intricate power game between whites and blacks in the debut novel of Lessing viz. The Grass is Singing and in the end, Conclusion clearly condenses the theme of the book and significance of the study.

The way methodically Mir has demarcated the phases of Lessing’s evolution as a writer through various phases such as Communist Phase, Psychological phase, Sufi phase is commendable and propels the reader to continue dwelling on the subject with a flow and an ease. The book very clearly compartmentalizes these phases of Lessing’s growth on the basis of influences she had in her life. Childhood is the time of impressions which remain throughout the lifetime. Lessing is no exception to this. Mir has mentioned this influence on Lessing’s work many times in every chapter of the book. Through Lessing’s work Mir emphasizes the great importance of family love and protection in child’s life, as an outlook towards the world-around is etched on child’s psyche in this growing phase. As Lessing had a disturbed childhood where she grew under a domineering mother and a repressive father and colonial setting, her works carry a grain of sadness and a bulk of instability in her initial works.

The book is given completeness and Mir has done perfect justice to the study by giving dense and pithy binding to it. The way personal experiences, real life incidents are knitted and are used to justify the Lessing’s themes in her novels is the zenith of this book. The author has delved gregariously on Lessing’s works with a deeper insight and hence has successfully connected them to Lessing’s life, psyche, past and childhood experiences. Racy, deft and effortless language, fitting vocabulary and no printing error makes the reading delightful.

Another worth mentioning factor is that Mir breaks the monotony of critical analysis with interesting personal accounts from Lessing’s life and insightful conclusions. She balances the study very well in this book where she traces Lessing’s contribution to the genre of novel in a very subtle way. The dream symbolism which forms important part of Lessing’s work is also given its due space. The way she has explicitly explored the universal themes of hopelessness, internal quest and vacuum give an ample scope to a reader’s imagination and subsequent contemplation. Lessing is throughout portrayed as experimenting, evolving and is not at all stagnant or fixed. Thus it is passively enforced on the readers especially women that they should not seek the validation from outside sources. The ghost of disintegration pounces upon women only when they are too enwrapped in pleasing others. Women need to tame this ghost by finding an internal source of courage which is gained from self discovery and accepting ourselves as we are. Lessing’s protagonist Kate, in The Summer before the Dark disintegrates while undergoing family pressure, but finally she runs through a whole cycle of rediscovery where she foremost accepts herself as she is. She no longer dyes her hair or puts any effort to impress anybody and there in her true-real self she finds her peace. 

Though the book focuses on two main novels, The Summer before the Dark and The Grass is Singing, yet all the other major works are briefly yet tersely touched by Mir. Through Lessing’s works she vocalizes the need of women to connect to themselves. Conclusions inferred by Mir have universal appeal and are refreshing to read. The critical comments not only embody truth of life but also raise the question of introspection.  The shift from Personal to Universal and Individual to Collective is traced in a gradual way and it is a paradigm shift which makes “disintegration” of Lessing’s characters actually an “integration” in the end.  Ironically, the individual has to undergo several breakdowns to be a whole and each crack is important to disintegrate which finally steers a soul toward a complete integration, which indeed is truly Taming of the Ghost. 

The book Taming The Ghost: Modes of Disintegration in Doris Lessing’s Select Novels by Naadiya Yaqoob Mir, is suggested to all in general and is highly recommended, in particular, to those who have inclination to read Doris Lessing, Feminist Criticism, Women Question, Marginal Literature and Postcolonial Literature.

Dr. Zeenat Khan is Assistant Professor, Department of English, MCM DAV College for Women, Chandigarh.