Alfred & Emily by Doris Lessing

Alfred and Emily Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is it a novel, that is, fiction? Is it non-fiction, a twin biography of her parents? In fact Alfred & Emily is both. It is kept in the fiction shelves, among other true works of that genre, in the National Library (KL); the librarians presume it to be this.

The first half of the book reads just like fiction. It tells the story of one Alfred and another of Emily. Unlike in real life, when they were Lessing’s parents, these two met at a cricket match, but later married other people instead. At first, if you haven’t known this portion is fiction, you’d have blithely read through the whole thing, thinking it non-fiction done up like fiction. It has a good narrative, three-dimensional characters and a rather viable plot, I must say. The only strange thing about this is that the main characters do not fall in love, like in the movies or in any type of novel. Actually Lessing called this part of her book a novella, because of its length, for one.

The remaining part of the book is the actual story of those two characters. They met and got married, which is how Doris got begotten, a per the way things go in life. Lessing explains to us how she takes bits and moments of her parents lives and put them into the novella, as fiction. However, I find the non-fiction bits, in the latter portion of book, more riveting. There, Lessing gives the reader more details, and she lingers longer to offer them, so that we get a better picture than we would have if he did this as fiction. Her story about her and her parents’ and one brother’s lives in Africa is riveting and fascinating for the pictures it draws. We now know how some kinds of foods made from mealy maize or corn is made and how delicious they were, and that they are no more today, nobody makes them now or knows how to, in Africa or England.

Interesting as Lessing’s book is, it is rather too short for my taste though. I would have preferred a longer work, so that I cannot finish the book in just a few days, so that I can take my time, with pleasure, reading about Lessing’s life with her parents.

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