Alfred and Emily

Doris Lessing

‘I think my father’s rage at the trenches took me over, when I was very young, and has never left me. Do children feel their parents’ emotions? Yes, we do, and it is a legacy I could have done without. What is the use of it? It is as if that old war is in my own memory, my own consciousness.’

In this extraordinary book, the new Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing explores the lives of her parents, both of them irrevocably damaged by the Great War. Her father wanted the simple life of an English farmer, but shrapnel almost killed him in the trenches, and thereafter he had to wear a wooden leg. Her mother Emily’s great love was a doctor, who drowned in the Channel, and she spent the war nursing the wounded in the Royal Free Hospital. In the first half of this book, Doris Lessing imagines the lives her parents might have made for themselves had there been no war at all, a story that has them meeting at a village cricket match outside Colchester as children but leading separate lives. This is followed by a piercing examination of their lives as they actually came to be in the shadow of that war, their move to Rhodesia, a damaged couple squatting over Doris’s childhood in a strange land.

‘Here I still am,’ says Doris Lessing, ‘trying to get out from under that monstrous legacy, trying to get free.’ With the publication of Alfred and Emily she has done just that.

Reviews of Alfred and Emily

    • ‘Writers approaching 90 aren’t supposed to write with vigour or experiment with form. But Lessing has never done the expected thing and “Alfred & Emily” is one more exception in an exceptional career.’ The Guardian
    • ‘Powerful…a page-turning narrative…a remarkable achievement…he very structure of Alfred & Emily brilliantly interrogates the shadow of empire and war – the contrast between what actually happened, and what might have been.’ The Independent
    • ‘Triumphant…heartbreaking….in this extraordinary valediction, she challenges the impossibility of escaping what we were born with.’ Scotland on Sunday
    • ‘Simply the book that Lessing, 90 next year, was compelled to write next…in Alfred & Emily Lessing has found her way to an old and difficult truth. People are what they are, but what they are is also, at least in part, what they might have been.’ Daily Telegraph
    • ‘Has the freshness, clarity and emotional acuity that made her first novel “The Grass is Singing” so outstanding…a tribute to a remakrable childhood, and a poignant memoir of the mother whose greatest legacy to her daughter was an invaluable gift for storytelling.’ Literary Review
    • ‘One of the strangest books you will ever read.’ Mail on Sunday
    • ‘This tale has a quality at once dreamy and wooden, like beautifully carved wooden dolls…vividly and urgently written…makes us think…about the moral and emotional power of different ways of telling a story.’ Financial Times
    • ‘Vivid, turbulent, raw with emotion.’ Sunday Telegraph
    • ‘Quietly extraordinary…this perfectly crafted book is, as Lessing knows, the latest instalment of a remarkable payback.’ The Observer

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