A revised origin of species…ironic, provocative, epic, heretical, post-modern…vividly descriptive
Eminent novelist Lessing offers an alternative origin story for the human race, indirectly recalling the alternate world speculations of her Canopus in ArgosSF novels. Positing that the primal human stock was female rather than male, Lessing invents a cult of ancient women called the Clefts, a name derived, in part, from that essential part of female anatomy. The story of the Clefts is bookended by the journal of a Roman historian, who interprets ancient documents stating that females were originally impregnated by "a fertilizing wind or a wave," to give birth to female children. But one day a "deformed" baby is born, with a "lumpy swelling" never seen before. The first rape and the first murder follow soon enough, as do the first instances of consensual intercourse and the babies-the first of a new race, with a nature derived from both sexes-that are the result. Humor, which may or may not be intentional, is introduced into a generally lethargic text when women and men discover they can't live with or without each other, and the battle of the sexes commences. The novel has elements of a feminist tract, but the story it tells doesn't present a significant challenge to that of Adam and Eve. (Aug.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
In this thought-provoking and compelling novel, an elderly Roman scholar retells the story of how human beings originated. But in his version, people were at first female only-he portrays a community called the Clefts who give birth to girls in conjunction with the cycles of the moon. Understandably, the Clefts are shocked and confused when the first male is born. What develops is much like an original battle of the sexes; the men are cast out and form their own community, but eventually the curiosity of both groups gets the better of them. Images of the scholar's own life emerge as he attempts to piece together this story from fragments of manuscripts and the oral traditions of both the women and the men of that time. The award-winning author of The Golden Notebookand the "Children of Violence" series, Lessing does not present an idealized view of women; far from being loving and peaceful, they actually treat the men quite cruelly. This multifaceted account of life, love, gender, history, and the power of story is engrossing if not easy reading. Highly recommended for literary collections.
One of postcolonial fiction's brightest lights makes mythic the battle of the sexes. It's men vs. women. Or, less subtly, "Monsters" vs. "Clefts." Lessing (The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog, 2005, etc.), manufacturing a legend out of prose somewhere between grunting and incantation, imagines pre-history. As if commenting on ancient lore, a Roman senator tells of "the Cleft where the red flowers grow," a Shangri-La soon to turn oppressive that's peopled only by moon-worshipping women bearing the name of their land. One day, on this isle of Fish Skin Curers, Seaweed Collectors and Old Shes, a virgin birth produces a Monster, complete with a "tube" below his navel and nipples that "aren't good for anything." As in old Greece, unwanted babies are exposed to the elements on the Cleft, and even while the Clefts insist that "there is no record of any of us doing cruel things-not until the Monsters were born," they leave most of the Monsters out to die or castrate them. Except Maire, who instinctively mates with one of the surviving Monsters grown to adulthood (they're then dubbed "Squirts"). In time, more Cleft-Squirt copulation ensues (they do it fast, Lessing says, like birds). The Squirt offspring are pretty much dunderheads who "did not understand that if they did this, then that would follow," but they're resourceful, making fire and suckling female deer when their Cleft mothers abandon them. After a while, in this anti-Genesis, an alternative Adam and Eve rise up: Horsa and Maronna. Like all Clefts, who "always talked down to the men, chiding and scolding," Maronna rules the roost; Horsa explores. But just as he seems about to venture toward some newwonderland and Clefts and Monsters achieve some kind of acceptance, the Cleft, like Vesuvius, explodes. A dark parable, powerful yet baffling.