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The Cleft (2007)

The Cleft (2007)

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2.83 of 5 Votes: 2
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0007233434 (ISBN13: 9780007233434)
fourth estate (gb)

About book The Cleft (2007)

A Review…and a Few QuestionsIn June, 1992, Doris Lessing wrote an Op-ed for the NY Times entitled, “Questions You Should Never Ask a Writer.” The questions that Lessing especially does not want to hear are, “What is the story really about? What does it mean?” In other words, we must take her stories at face value and see them as just that – works of her imagination, nothing more.After finishing “The Cleft,” however, it seems impossible not to ask those questions. On the surface, Lessing’s latest thought-provoking novel is a simple tale, told by a Roman historian during the height of the Roman Empire. The historian, a male, recounts the “origin of the species” found in ancient written records. These scrolls are based on an oral tradition handed down through the ages.In her brief preface, Lessing says that the whole story began with a question, “sparked” by a scientific article, stoked by the imagination. The question: What if the first “human” were a woman, not a man? Suppose our ancestors were females, Clefts, born in the sea, inseminated and nurtured by it. The early Clefts resemble seals, lolling around the shore, on rocks, living in peace until one gives birth to a male, or “monster.”The fascinating narrative shifts between the myth, or legend, of the Clefts and the Monsters, and the historian’s description of life in ancient Rome. He dwells on gender and family issues in both time frames and invokes more questions. Are females inherently strong, maternal care-givers? Are males basically competitive, irresponsible dreamers?One of the main themes of The Cleft is that history is by nature subjective. It all depends on who is writing the history books. On page 136, the historian says:“A community, a people, must decide what sort of a chronicle must be kept. We all know that in the telling and retelling of an event, or series of events, there will be as many accounts as there are tellers.”Lessing’s historian clings to the “oral tradition,” passed down through memories, as most reliable. Yet, he admits (p. 25), “What I am about to relate may be – must be – speculative.” Much of the “factual” material is “kept locked up.” Our narrator laments, “all this locking up and smoothing over and the suppression of the truth.” Which explains that by the time of ancient Rome, it was already “common knowledge” that the males came first. So, here is my question, not for Lessing, rather for her readers, for myself. Why Rome? Why is the fable of the Clefts and the Monsters set against the backdrop of the Roman Empire in all its glory? Couldn’t the scrolls have been discovered by a 21st century historian? Why is the story told by a man who despises the coliseum and its gory, violent rites, yet who admits to a voyeuristic, visceral thrill each time he attends? What is the significance of the Eagle, present in the ancient myth of the Clefts as protector of the males, as well as a revered species of Rome? Perhaps the answer can be found on page 216, in a passage replete with the historian’s own questions regarding the empire’s expansion and his personal loss of two sons to war:“I…think of how Rome has hurt itself in our need to expand, to have. I think of my two poor sons, lying somewhere in those northern forests. Rome has to outleap itself, has to grow, has to reach out…Why should there ever be an end to us, to Rome, to our boundaries? Subject peoples may fight us, but they never can stop us. I sometimes imagine how all the known world will be Roman, subject to our beneficent rule, to Roman peace, Roman laws and justice, Roman efficiency…Some greater power than human guides us, leads us, points where our legions must go next. And if there are those who criticize us, then I have only one reply. Why, then, if we lack the qualities needed to make the whole earth flourish, why does everyone want to be a Roman citizen?”Why Rome, indeed? Lessing has said that if she wants to write about a subject or situation, she does just that. Still, there’s a question I’d love to ask her.

Lessing's last full length novel, written the year she won the Nobel Prize in Literature. This is a myth about the origins of humanity; the premise is that originally there were only women, who came from the sea, and reproduced parthenogenically; then they began to give birth to males . . . and the story goes on from there. Biologically impossible, but an interesting projection of male and female psychology, and the way they are looked at, with the Roman narrator provided a third point of comparison between the narration itself and the contemporary reader. It's great tp see an author at the end of her career still experimenting with new styles and subjects. I think the style, although "mythical", may paradoxically be a little too realistic for the improbable content; it tempts one to take it too seriously rather than just enjoying the humor, the way one would in a book by say Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, or Ishmael Reed; and on the other hand the deceptive simplicity of the narrative may cause one to miss some of the subtle points.Perhaps not one of her very best books, but a good, well told story that kept me reading, and certainly not an unworthy ending to her fictional oeuvre.

Do You like book The Cleft (2007)?

“I often think when scanning one of our Roman crowds, that each individual present has been born to a female, and if ever there was a common fate or destiny, then this must be it.”“The Cleft” is a fantasy story with sci-fi theme that provides a feministic view of how sexuality is appeared and affected human society. The story narrated by a historian from the Roman Emperor era who described her historical findings about the early ages of our society, a paradise occupied by just women and they were experiencing a life without any illness, animosity, war, jealousy or etc. But everything tragically changed as soon as a boy born by one of the women. Doris Lessing in this book shows that how it is possible to use a scientific fact, that sexuality is produced during the term of evolution and was not a part of life from the beginning, to describe what you think about a subject in a beautiful way.“The idea that had made revolutions, wars, split families, driven the bearer of the idea mad or into new active life.”

I did not finish this book. In fact I could not. It was my taste as a consumer of books that prohibited me.Oh sure, I've set aside books before. I've even set aside books with no intention of continuing them in the future. But never with as adamant a certainty that I would never again pick up the book in order to give it a second chance.Some may question my ability to judge a book based only on a partial reading, which is fair, but trust me: this book is Bad.Doris Lessing's The Cleft may actually be the worst book I'd ever read. It's not so much that the ideas expressed were repugnant or in any way offensive, but more that in the place of what we commonly refer to as writing there was instead a collection of hieroglyphic fecal matter.I had never read any of Lessing's impressive oeuvre and so to encounter this as my first taste of what by at least some accounts is a smorgasbord of delicacies was, in layman's terms, a disappointment. Pacing: scattered by what looks to be the onset of senility. Style: fourth-grade chic. Historical sense: senseless and ahistorical. Characters: there were none and those impressions that threatened to become characters were never better than those cardboard standees you used to find in display windows at Suncoast Video, a Leia or Chewbacca or Boba Fett (of course, none of those impressions ever really approached that sense of solidity that those corrugated paper mementos had).This book was chosen for our bookclub on the basis that mere months prior its publication, Lessing won the Nobel for literature and the synopsis made it sound like an adventurous read into gender studies. It was not anything of the sort.Here we see the woman who chose the book express her disappointment in Lessing and in the Nobel committee by means of willful conflagration.
—Seth Hahne

i'm surprised this book has such a low rating on goodreads. maybe i shouldn't be. lessing's idea here, that women came first, and men evolved later, might be shocking or disgusting to some people. this isn't a 'normal' novel in that there aren't characters, per se, that one follows their development (though lessing does give a few names to key players in her narrative). the story is told by a roman historian who is sifting through documents, trying to make a cohesive story of the beginning of humans. women are the first sex, that come out of the water, are impregnated there, and only produce women (clefts). then after time, 'monster' births start appearing with 'tubes' (men). these monsters are killed until their births are so frequent, and they eventually form their own colony. after another time, women lose the ability to self-impregnate, and a use is found for their tubes.very interesting ideas explored here; i think lessing had fun with this goodreads bob would like this book, i think. let me know if you want to borrow it.

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