Love, Againby Doris Lessing
The first new novel from Doris Lessing in more than seven years, Love, Again tells the story of a sixty-five-year-old woman who falls in love. Or rather, Sarah Durham falls into a state of love, which is another country altogether, and struggles to maintain her sanity while there. Widowed for many years, with grown children, Sarah is a writer who works in the theater… See more details below
The first new novel from Doris Lessing in more than seven years, Love, Again tells the story of a sixty-five-year-old woman who falls in love. Or rather, Sarah Durham falls into a state of love, which is another country altogether, and struggles to maintain her sanity while there. Widowed for many years, with grown children, Sarah is a writer who works in the theater in London. When she falls in love with a seductive young actor, the beautiful and androgynous twenty-eight-year-old Bill, and then with the more mature, thirty-five-year-old director Henry, Sarah finds herself in a state of longing and desire she thought the province of younger women. This richly textured novel explores the affinities and connections between romantic love, depression and grief, homesickness and the emotional deprivations of childhood. The two men with whom Sarah falls in love, one after the other, cause her to relive her own stages of growing up, from immature and infantile love to the mature.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt
Easy to think this was a junkroom, silent and airless in a warm dusk, but then a shadow moved, someone emerged from it to pull back curtains and throw open windows. It was a woman, who now stepped quickly to a door and went out, leaving it open. The room thus revealed was certainly over-full. Along one wall were all the evidences of technical evolutiona fax machine, a copy machine, a word processor, telephonesbut as for the rest, the place could easily be some kind of theatrical storeroom, with a gold bust of some Roman female, much larger than life, masks, a crimson velvet curtain, posters, and piles of sheet music, or rather photocopies that had faithfully reproduced yellowing and crumbling originals.
On the wall over the word processor was a large reproduction of Cezanne's Mardi Gras, also the worse for wear: it had been torn across and put together with cellotape.
The woman next door was energetically attending to something: objects were being moved about. Then she reappeared and stood looking in at the room.
Not a young woman, as it had been easy to imagine from the vigour of her movements when still half seen in the shadows. A woman of a certain age, as the French put it, or even a bit older, and not dressed to present herself, but wearing old trousers and shirt.
This woman was alert, full of energy, yet she did not seem pleased with what she looked at. However, she shook all that off and went to her processor, sat down, put out a hand to switch on a tape. At once the room was filled with the voice of the Countess Die, from eight centuries ago (or a voice able to persuade the listener she was the Countess), singing her timeless plaints:
I mustsing, whether I will or not:
I feel so much pain over him whose friend I hold myself,
For I love him more than anything that is . . .
The modern woman, sitting with her hands ready to attack the keys, was conscious she felt superior to this long-ago sister, not to say condemning. She did not like this in herself. Was she getting intolerant?
Yesterday Mary had rung from the theatre to say that Patrick was in emotional disarray because he had fallen in love again, and she had responded with a sharp comment.
'Now, come on, Sarah,' Mary had rebuked her.
Then Sarah had agreed, and laughed at herself.
Feeling disquiet, however. There seems to be a rule that what you condemn will turn up sooner or later, to be lived through. Forced to eat your vomityes, Sarah knew this well enough. Somewhere in her past she had made a note: Beware of condemning other people, or watch out for yourself.
The Countess Die was too disturbing, and Sarah switched the plaint off.
Silence. She sat breathing it in. She was altogether too much affected by this old troubadour and trouvere music. She had been listening to little else for days, to set the tone of what she had to write. Not only the Countess, but Bernard de Ventadour, Pierre Vidal, Giraut de Bornelh, and other old singers, had put her into a state of . . . she was restless, and she was feverish. When had music affected her like this before? She did not think it had. Wait, though. Once she had listened to jazz, particularly the blues, it seemed day and night, for months. But that was when her husband died, and the music had fed her melancholy. But she did not remember . . . yes, first she had been grief-ridden, and then she had chosen music to fit her state. But this was a different matter altogether.
Her task this evening was not a difficult one. The programme notes were too stiff in tone: this was because, writing them, she had been afraid of being over-charmed by the subject. And she was being charmed by the sensuous voice of the Countessor the young woman Alicia de la Haye.
She did not have to do the programme notes now. In fact she had made a rule for herself not to work in the evenings at home: a rule she had not been keeping recently. To spell it out, she had not been keeping her own prescriptions for balance and good mental health.
She sat listening to silence. A sparrow chirped.
She thought, I'll look up that Provencal poem by Pound; that's hardly work after all.
The desk was stacked with reference books, files of cuttings, and on one side of it bookshelves rose to the ceiling. A book lay open on one side of the word processor.
Growing old gracefully . . . the way has been signposted. One might say the instructions are in an invisible script which becomes slowly legible as life exposes it. Then the appropriate words only have to be spoken. On the whole the old don't do badly. Pride is a great thing, and the necessary stances and stoicisms are made easy because the young do not knowit is hidden from themthat the flesh withers around an unchanged core. The old share with each other ironies appropriate to ghosts at a feast, seen by each other but not by the guests whose antics and posturings they watch, smiling, remembering.
To this set of placid sentences full of self-respect most people getting old would subscribe, feeling well presented and even defended by them.
Yes, I'll go along with that, thought Sarah. Sarah Durham. A good sensible name for a sensible woman.
The book where she had found these sentences had been on a trestle in a street market, the memoirs of a society woman once known for her beauty, written in old age and published when she was nearly a hundred, twenty years ago. A strange thing, Sarah thought, that she had picked the book up. Once, she would never have even opened a book by an old person: nothing to do with her, she would have felt. But what could be odder than the way that books which chime with one's condition or stage in life insinuate themselves into one's hand?
She pushed away that book, thought Pound's verses could wait, and decided to enjoy an evening when nothing at all would be expected of her. An evening in April, and it was still light. This room was calm, usually calming, and like the other three rooms in this flat held thirty years of memories. Rooms a long time lived in can be like littered sea shores; hard to know where this or that bit of debris has come from.
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