The Cleft

Doris Lessing

An old Roman senator, contemplative at his late stage of life, embarks on what will likely be his last endeavour: the retelling of the story of human creation. He recounts the history of the Clefts, an ancient community of women living in an Edenic, coastal wilderness, confined within the valley of an overshadowing mountain. The Clefts have no need nor knowledge of men – childbirth is controlled, like the tides that lap around their feet, through the cycles of the moon, and their children are always female. But with the unheralded birth of a strange, new child – a boy – the harmony of their community is suddenly thrown into jeopardy.

At first, in their ignorance, the Clefts are awestruck by this seemingly malformed child, but as more and more of these threateningly unfamiliar males appear, now unfavourably nicknamed Squirts, they are rejected, and are exposed on the nearby mountainside; sacrificed to the patrolling eagles overhead, the sentinels of their female haven. Unbeknownst to the Clefts, however, these baby males survive, aided by the very eagles sent to kill them, and thrive on their own on the other side of the mountain. It is not until an unusually curious young Cleft named Maire goes beyond the geographical, and emotional, divide of the mountain that this disquieting fact is uncovered – a discovery that forces the Clefts to accept and realign themselves to the prospect of a now shared world, and the possible vengeance of the wronged males.

In this fascinating and beguiling novel, Lessing confronts head-on the themes that inspired much of her early writing: how men and women, two similar and yet thoroughly distinct creatures, manage to live side by side in the world, and how the specifics of gender affect every aspect of our existence.

Reviews of The Cleft

    • ‘Lessing skilfully manipulates multiple perspectives…a bold, inventive and challenging book from a writer who continues to enlighten and astonish as she approaches her tenth decade.’ The Independent
    • ‘The author’s reach continues to thrill…there’s witchery in the Old She yet.’ Daily Telegraph
    • ‘a strange novel, one of her strangest, but it lures one ineluctably into its toils…Lessing has a lot of fun in her prehistoric world…the novel is best seen as pure entertainment: an amusing series of what-ifs by one of the world’s great storytellers.’ Sunday Telegraph
    • ‘A narrative with the compelling stamp of Lessing’s late tales.’ The Times
    • ‘Lessing’s considerable talent…her certainties are persuasive.’ Sunday Times
    • ‘Doris Lessing writes movingly of the human desire for change…she conveys a powerful belief in the impermanence of any stuation in which human beings find themselves and the paradoxically unchanging nature of human relations.’ The Observer
    • ‘Lessing’s engaging tale is told with the simplicity of an aural history committed to memory.’ New Statesman
    • ‘Her prose is pleasingly incantatory…the novel has a pleasing gravitational pull on a purely poetic level.’ Metro
    • ‘Lessing writes, as ever, with such calm and assured authority…a fascinating, at times disturbing book; one can’t imagine any other writer bringing it off.’ The Scotsman

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