Read Briefing for a Descent Into Hell by Doris Lessing Online


A fascinating look inside the mind of a man who is supposedly “mad.” Professor Charles Watkins of Cambridge University is a patient at a mental hospital where the doctors try with increasing drugs to bring his mind under control. But Watkins has embarked on a tremendous psychological adventure where, after spinning endlessly on a raft in the Atlantic, he lands on a tropicaA fascinating look inside the mind of a man who is supposedly “mad.” Professor Charles Watkins of Cambridge University is a patient at a mental hospital where the doctors try with increasing drugs to bring his mind under control. But Watkins has embarked on a tremendous psychological adventure where, after spinning endlessly on a raft in the Atlantic, he lands on a tropical island inhabited by strange creatures with strange customs. Later, he is carried off on a cosmic journey into space…...

Title : Briefing for a Descent Into Hell
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781400077267
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 278 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Briefing for a Descent Into Hell Reviews

  • Deea
    2019-03-18 10:20

    I don’t exaggerate when I am saying that I felt like quitting reading this book several times before I became quite enraptured by it. Alien ship appearing from the sky, animals like monkeys and ratdogs being described fighting and killing each other… all these seemed nonsense. I was expecting something different from Lessing. But hey, it’s Lessing we’re talking about here, I should have learnt to expect the unexpected.The story seems to be banal: an individual gets in a mental hospital with total amnesia. They keep sedating him and what he remembers doesn’t reveal anything about his identity, but some story of a voyage on a sea when his mates were kidnapped by aliens. And what he says has no coherence. He keeps saying “around and around and around” countless times and he keeps babbling. He remembers getting to an island and seeing the ratdogs and monkeys that I mentioned above fighting and then he gets “to enter the crystal”. This seems so weird, right? Doctors are at a loss. We, readers, are at a loss. But do not worry, it’s not a nonsensical SF story with aliens and UFO’s. So, after teasing us the first part of the book: Doris Lessing’s genius strikes. All this is metaphoric and the metaphors she uses here are strong. Once he gets into the Crystal, he acquires a superior sense of perception: he sees humanity for what it really is from above. “My mind moved among them like a bird on wings, and I understood that among these poor beasts trapped in their frightful necessities, some sometimes snuffed this finer air, but that most did not. Most of them were as thick, heavy and unredeemed as the bulk of stone and earth that had no crystalline air kneaded into it.” While she is talking about human beings this way as seen from above, she is the one saying that “in the great singing dance, everything linked and moved together.” Even planets and gods admit this. So they are gathering to brief some representatives to go to Earth (the Hell from the title) to redeem people, to get them to change their behavior so as not to have a negative impact on the Universe anymore. And this part of the book is brilliant, simply brilliant. Sheer genius. Trust me on this. Lessing kneads a story about Gods, planets and human beings. And she does it so well that you cannot but stand in awe of her display of erudition and talent. And the concepts she proposes are amazing. This huge metaphor she builds reflects the nowadays reality (terrorism, how destructive human beings really are and so on) and combines Greek Mythology, Christian religion, astrophysics, philosophical concepts, history, archeology and ideas about evolution with such talent that you are left speechless. And then the story of the individual who cannot remember his past continues. He is faced with a choice: to remember what society tells him he really is or to stay the way he is. And he makes his choice. And the layers of this story start unravelling and they can be interpreted in so many ways. The silly monkeys and ratdogs from before don’t seem so silly anymore. Nor does the alien ship. You keep hoping that he won’t choose shock therapy to regain his lost memories. In the end, all the elements seem to have had each such important things to say in the story. Everything that Lessing used in this novel stands as a symbol for something, everything expresses a concept or idea, nothing is random.And to end this in her fashion: "The important thing is this - to remember that some things reach out to us from that level of living, to here. Anxiety is one. The sense of urgency. Oh, they make an illness of it, they charm it away with their magic drugs. But it isn't for nothing. It isn't unconnected. They say, "an anxiety state", as they say, paranoia, but all these things, they have a meaning, they are reflections from that other part of ourselves, and that part of ourselves knows things we don't know.". Curious about her parallel between anxiety and what we might have experienced that we are not aware of? Read the book to find the answer: the concept she proposes is quite interesting.

  • Julie
    2019-03-06 07:12

    Some crazed english teacher assigned this to our class in 10th grade. I loved the book and have re-read it many times. I think this may have been one of the first adult books that turned me on to reading

  • Neal Adolph
    2019-03-19 06:29

    When Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize nearly a decade ago she found out as she stepped out of a taxi and arrived at her home swarmed with journalists. She didn’t seem to know that the announcement was to be made on that day, or didn’t seem to care, having, like many pundits and literati, long ago decided that she was out of contention. She was 88 after all. She responded which a remarkable quip, a curse, a statement of how it took them too long. The Nobel Committee, in one of their famously ambiguous statements, defined her contribution as that of the “epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny".I guess that makes sense. I’ve read two previous Doris Lessing novels - The Fifth Child and The Good Terrorist. I’ve successfully avoided her masterpieces (though just which books are to be included that list aside from The Golden Notebook seems to be in contention), but have found a good, if uneven body of literature huddling in the undergrowth of her sizeable literature. In those two books Lessing certainly took on the female experience, she certainly was sceptical, she certainly had a visionary power, and she certainly scrutinized her characters and the world that they lived in.It is harder to be certain that she is doing the same in this book, a 1971 Man Booker Prize Nominee (which she lost to fellow Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul).Briefing for a Descent Into Hell is unlike any book that I have ever read before. It plays around with genre in a way that I’ve never encountered, and it made me feel things that I haven’t felt while reading a book before. A sense of wonder that, I suspect, is usually reserved for magical worlds and wizards and fairy tales, for sure. This is none of that - it is a world that is far from fantastical or too perfect to be true, but also far from rational, observable, explainable. It is a book that is difficult to describe.In Briefing for a Descent Into Hell we jump into the mind of a man who is supposed to be a professor and may or may not be that professor, and the reader is invited into that debate by trying to determine who they believe - the presumed professor or the doctors who are attempting to convince the man that he is the professor. In figuring out the mystery of the professor we are taken on a journey across oceans, across continents, into the air, flying on the backs of great white animals and watching great brown ones attack each other. Quietly observing and hoping not to be attacked ourselves - and then, eventually, swept up into a crystal, drawn back to a beginning - a conference - where humanity and its fate is discussed. All done in a brilliant, beautiful manner. And then - what was that? - a birth. A birth? I think that was a birth.I’d never been born before in literature. I think that Lessing birthed me through her literature. Is that a thing that makes sense? I’m not sure. But there is a scene here, a moment, and it is important, where something like that happens. It brings in so many questions.In reading this book we soar through many genres, like I said. Science fiction, speculative fiction, inner space fiction, whichever you like to call it (and it might be each and every one of these separately), joins with medical drama, joins with realism, joins with a nearly legend and victorian myth making.It is a powerful novel that is only possible because it is written, for moments, in a stream of conscience manner, for moments adopting tropes that were just developing in the late 60s and early 70s (were they developing in this manner because of Lessing?), for moments mixing in a fluid reality, for moments making all of it possible and then, at the end asking if any of it really makes some kind of rational sense of any sort. So it only accomplishes what it does exactly because of Lessing’s dedication to experimenting with form and manner, words, and sentences. But in the end it doesn’t quite work perfectly. There is a missing thread that offers some kind of conclusion - which is perhaps what Lessing wanted, of course she wants you to make the judgement call on this book - but it ultimately didn’t quite leave me satisfied.(Does literature have to leave me satisfied? I’ll have to consider this later.)Overall, I’d qualify this as a fantastic though not quite marvellous book. Incredibly well thought out, more than competently written if at moments a little unconvincing, and a book which grows in my estimation the more I think upon it. I suspect it is one that I’ll think on often and want to come back to again in due time. Worth reading, worth reflecting upon for making us reflect on the field of medicine and psychotherapy, worth reading for how it melts this into a means of understanding humanity, for how humanity is corrupted. Towards the end of the book I was inclined to trust the doctors. But it was only because I wanted to trust in something of some sort, any sort, and the power of the many seemed to overwhelm to power of the single individual objectified and classified and diagnosed by the doctors, his presumed wife, his colleague, his friend, his fellow veteran. But it is a mystery. Is the man mad? I’m not sure. And if he is, what does that say about the doctors? If he isn’t, what does that say about humanity? I’m also, somehow, astonishingly, inclined to believe the patient, the professor, the individual, the victim, the man reborn, the warrior, the sailor, entirely. He doesn’t after all, really know who he is, but only knows that something isn’t quite making sense in his surroundings. Almost as though some imprint left in his brain is starting to reveal itself with remarkable magic, an imprint that allows him to see the world differently, makes it so that he can’t relate to it anymore, turns him into a benign figure just waiting to grow up and fulfill some new purpose.Worth reading.

  • Nate D
    2019-02-25 12:08

    Rather variable ride. First, we're presented with a man checked into a psych ward with no memory and a pretty delusional idea of where he is. Immediately we're drawn into his (already debunked) subjective reality, which removes (the pre-debunking does, that is) much of that excitement of trying to figure out what exactly is going on. Soon, his (interior) journey takes on enough concrete detail and sense of place to teansport me despite this, at least until it starts to develop that excessively domineering allegorical sensation, perhaps with a little bit of that piercing-of-the-veil and ultimate reality that I tend to find a bit trying. The questions of what is the truer reality and who is more crazy (individual or society) begin to emerge, but these aren't exactly earth-shatteringly unique treatments of so-called insanity. Still, by the end (there are far more shifts and plot redirections than I've detailed, I'm really not spoiling anything, it has a kind of sincerity and pathos that won over my sympathies. Uneven, but thoughtful, occasional radiance (the Yugoslavis story?!) balanced with some pseudo-academic nonsense (the smart but irritating mythologies-in-space digression).

  • Jim
    2019-02-28 06:33

    I have a problem with the word ‘experimental’ because most experiments fail; it’s in their nature. When I use word ‘experiment’ here I mean a test to prove a hypothesis. In the case of a novel the word ‘experimental’ usually means: If I try this and this and this do I still have a novel? And the answer to that question is usually: Yes, but not a very good one. Certainly what we’re willing to consider a novel nowadays is different from when the word was first coined and if you want to take the word at face value what Lessing has tried to do here is certainly something novel, something new and for that reason alone the book’s worth reading but if, like me, you know nothing about the book when you pick it up then the first third will test you. All I can say is: Hang on in there, skip a few pages if you have to but watch out for the conference; that’s when they start talking about the briefing and, for me at least, things started to click into place.There is, however, no briefing. There’s no point it seems:“[T]here is to be no Briefing. How could there be? You’d be bound to forget every word you hear now. No, you will carry Sealed Orders.”Here, as some of them unconsciously glanced around for evidences of these, Merk joked: “Come, come, what do you expect? A roll of microfilm? Perhaps a manuscript of some kind, that you’d have to chew up and swallow in moments of danger? No, of course not, give me some credit—brainprints, of course.” Hell is Earth and these beings—extra-terrestrials of some kind, gods possibly—have volunteered to travel to Earth (and some not for the first time so there’s a hint at reincarnation here) to communicate an important message; a Planetary Emergency is apparently brewing and they need to know the truth: An ability to see things as they are, in their multifarious relations—in other words, Truth—will be part of humanity’s new, soon-to-be-developed equipment. To communicate their message—unlike Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still they don’t have flying saucers—they have to be born as humans and grow up and then, somewhere, somehow, hopefully (there is no guarantee), they will remember why they’re there: “At the risk of boring you, I must repeat, I am afraid—repeat, reiterate, re-emphasise—it is not at all a question of your arriving on Planet Earth as you leave here. You will lose nearly all memory of your past existence. You will each of you come to yourselves, perhaps alone, perhaps in the company of each other, but with only a vague feeling of recognition, and probably disassociated, disorientated, ill, discouraged, and unable to believe, when you are told what your task really is. You will wake up, as it were, but there will be a period while you are waking which will be like the recovery from an illness, or like the emergence into good air from a poisoned one. Some of you may choose not to wake, for the waking will be so painful, and the knowledge of your condition and Earth’s condition so agonising, you will be like drug addicts: you may prefer to continue to breathe in oblivion. And when you have understood that you are in the process of awakening, that you have something to get done, you will have absorbed enough of the characteristics of Earthmen to be distrustful, surly, grudging, suspicious. You will be like a drowning person who drowns his rescuer, so violently will you struggle in your panic terror.” At this point I started to realise that the madman in the hospital who’d been raving about his experiences lost at sea and then on an island and finally after entering a mysterious Disc or Crystal which takes him on a journey probably most similar to the one David Bowman takes when he enters the Star Gate in 2001 could quite possibly be an alien—or at least an alien consciousness—struggling towards self-awareness. Was he lost at sea? Unlikely. At least not in this life. He’s discovered wandering along the River Thames.In the second part of the book we learn who the patient is—Professor Charles Watkins (a professor of classics)—and the doctors attempt to aid him regain his memories. Of course he has memories, as he says to his wife when she comes to visit: “My mind is full of memories [but] I don’t remember the things you talk about.” He indeed remembers (and misremembers) many things but unfortunately he can’t remember his mission. He’s aware that he has to remember something but not what. Much of the latter half of the book is made up of letters and memos and it does appear that within his circle of acquaintances over the years there have been others of his kind also struggling to make sense of not quite fitting into the lives they’ve been living. Could these be members of “the colonies on Earth that are the result of previous Descents”? At one point in talking to Doctor Y. he does actually deliver his message but it’s in such a compressed form—and, of course, delivered by a man in a mental hospital—that all that happens is he gets shushed and told to get some rest.Or all of this could be the ravings of a delusional mind; the more we learn about him the more we can see his ranting as a twisted version of things that have happened to him. K-Pax it is not. It’s also not really a study of madness—I use the term loosely—but it does provide an interesting take on what many have believed for years, that the mad—mad to us—are simply those with a different level or kind of insight. Forty years on we look at individuals with savant syndrome and accept that they are differently abled even if we don’t understand how they can do the things they do. They might as well be aliens in human skins. Not an easy read, especially some of the stream-of-consciousness sections which just go on and on but once you’ve got the gist things start to make more sense and then—I haven’t mentioned his memories of the war—maybe we were wrong. What’s probably hardest is the book keeps changing. At first it’s an adventure, followed by a hunk of stream of consciousness writing which then morphs into science fiction; then it becomes a mystery novel, then an epistolary novel, then an historical memoir. The ending, however, is poignant, a final, desperate attempt to regain that thing he's sure he’s lost.

  • John
    2019-03-18 12:23

    My second Lessing book and what a one to pick. Who do you believe, what is real and what is a hallucination? In the end we are still left guessing is the amnesiac cured or was he a amnesiac. This book was shortlisted got the 1971 Booker Prize. The plot revolves around a man found wandering on Embankment in London with no memory and apparently hallucinating. He is taken to a hospital for treatment by two doctors and we embark via the patients imagination a voyage at sea, space craft, abandoned cities and the viewpoints of Greek Gods. Great prose but at times difficult to read.

  • Maya Gutierrez
    2019-03-02 07:16

    This is one of the most unusual books I've read, it covers an amazing range of ideas in under 300 pages. I've never read anything by Doris Lessing before (not sure how since I'm constantly reading, and try to focus on female authors.) I downloaded a bunch of her books and picked this one simply because I loved the title. It turns out that it falls into one of my favorite genres, the "alternate reality" because of coma/near-death/madness, etc. My favorite example of this genre is the movie Jacob's Ladder. I feel differently about works of art that fall into this category because I was in a coma for a month due to a freak illness in my 20s, and during that time lived in a futuristic cube-shaped world that technically doesn't exist, but I felt time passing, had a job, knew people there, etc. So I know what it feels like to have memories that most people wouldn't consider to have actually happened, yet those memories are more vivid than things that have happened in my "real" life. Heavy stuff, and this is one of the only books that I can think of that works with that idea (if I'm missing any books, please recommend them!) It seems to be a more common trope in movies and TV shows. Although it's a little hard to get into at first, Lessing does a fantastic job with the description of the alternate realms the main character wanders through - they feel hyper-real rather than unreal. When he passes through the crystal portal and is able to see the solar system on an energetic level, her writing really captures the intensity of a fever dream. Even though I was reading this on the NYC subway and had places to go, I was hoping for train delays just so I wouldn't have to put the book down. I think ultimately it perfectly captures the thoughts of a man straining for universal transcendence and then just barely missing it. This book is definitely not for everyone but I highly recommend it.

  • Ian Mapp
    2019-03-06 06:29

    Christ, this is not an easy book.It contains one of the genres that I hate - the stream of consiciousness. A man is found wandering emabankment penniless and is admitted to hospital.the first third of the book are the ramblings in his head - which have a very science fiction feel to it, as he discovers alien races, is transported on the back of giant birds and porpoises and encounters apes fighting rat dogs. All a methaphor for something, but what I dont know.Then we get into the investigation of who he is, resolved through being introduced to his wife, lovers, friends, work colleagues. He is a professor of greek and some of his early hallucinations are linked to the histories that his friend supply.The professors condition improves and he is off given lucid representations of his involvements in the war - all of which are dismissed by the colleagues that worked with him.He then is faced with the choice of being moved to a new long term facility or taking electro shock therapy.... after not being allowed to run off with a young nurse, he takes the latter and dramatically improves.So what was all that about. There are hints that its all about civilisation, gender politics, even communism but I cant really put my finger on what she was trying to get across.Always a struggle to read, especially the eary 1/3 of the book - it had something that kept you turning the pages, and I still cant put my finger on what that was.Suppose, I should have been concerned by the phrase experimental!Dont know whether to read the fifth child.

  • Sandy
    2019-03-09 09:35

    Hell as in Hades as in the land of the living dead, a place of stasis. Change in the form or a re-imagined life, or liberation, is not an option for Professor Charles Watkins because he is in the care--at the mercy--of doctors whose perceptions are easily, readily handicapped by the vast array of labels they so easily apply to Professor Charles Watkins. Watkins arrives at an English hospital as a lost soul, a man who has lost his memory and, therefore, his identity. As his doctors attempt to discover him that they might return him to his world, they also seek to recreate him with the aid of medications, therapies, and the recollections of friends and lovers and rivals. Charles imagines himself one way; the doctors, another. What should be a collaboration toward healing becomes a competition as the clock ticks toward Watkins's inevitable release from the institution.Can we be ourselves? Can we remake our lives? Can liberating change ever come? And what if we have no name with which to label this new creation?

  • Sam
    2019-02-28 09:15

    Having heard so much about how good this is and having my expectations raised so high, there was every chance that this could've been a let down. But it was the absolute polar opposite. Lessing has written a tale that it utterly gripping from start to finish through all the strange unusual flashbacks and visions and all the real heartfelt moments as Watkins is torn between his old and new realities. As his doctors try and cure him and his family and friends are brought in to help, the questions Watkins' raises about them, their aims and society as a whole are as poingant now as they were then, possibly even more so. Despite the weight of the story, this still flows beautifully and allows the reader time to take everything in, leaving the mind room to breathe and ponder without losing the thread of the story itself.

  • Angela Schaffer
    2019-03-04 09:22

    This is the third novel I have read by Lessing. I also read The Grass is Singing and The Summer before the Dark, and found both novels to be far more accessible and enjoyable reads. Having said that, though, I rated this novel higher. While it is clearly a more challenging read, Lessing's work is incredibly brilliant. In fact, I would call this novel "genius," as it tracks the mental breakdown of Professor Charles Watkins. The beginning of the novel, when Watkins is at the height of his madness, and crippled by poorly prescribed medication, his thoughts are difficult to follow and become quite grotesque and violent at times. To have written such scenes, though, is truly a marvel, and this makes me want to read more biographical information related to Lessing. Later, some of the insights offered on education and human nature are so intelligently phrased and accurate. I quite enjoyed the very lengthy and detailed letter written to Watkins by Rosemary Baines. I highly believe that any individual going into the mental health field, or those who personally suffer from mental illness, should read this novel. For those in the profession, I found the madness of Watkins to be quite revealing. Lessing is quite revolutionary and bold, and I admire her work here.

  • Paul
    2019-03-03 12:22

    This was a bit of a struggle at first as my naturally ordered mind desires chapters and parts of this are stream of consciousness and hard work. The tale of a man found wandering in London having lost is memory. The first part of the book seems to be about about what is going on in his mind and is about the wanderings of a man in a fantastical world. The roles of the two doctors and the nursing staff are interesting and they follow the psychological theories of the time.We learn the man is an academic who teaches amongst other things Greek mythology and this illuminates the earlier part of the book (The influence of The Odyssey is strong)In the second part of the book we meet his wife and various other friends and colleagues and learn something of his past.Trying not to give too much away the man has a choice (via treatment) as to whether to retrieve his memory or to stay with his new reality, which is the only one he knows. Both choices are shown to involve loss. What is it about? There are many layers of meaning; but madness is clearly seen as a social construct and sanity isn't all it's made out to be!!!

  • Sam Moss
    2019-03-18 12:34

    Lessing has some cool ideas in this book, but the execution is sloppy and it has not aged terrible well. There are some really good parts in the second half, the Yugoslavia section especially, but the first 200 pages or so were a clunky slog.

  • Meghan
    2019-03-03 11:08

    This book really surprised me. For the first half, despite the fact that I was enjoying the parallel stories (man lost at sea in his mind, and the same man in a mental institution with doctors trying to figure out his deal), I had a hard time maintaining interest in the long passages of stream of consciousness. I could see how they were appropriate to show the Professor's confusion and loneliness in his mental journey, but that didn't keep me awake when I was reading the book before bed. As the story in his mind went on, however, it got to be less reflective and more action-packed, enough for me to appreciate the prose and still be entertained. A little over halfway through the book, the nature of the "Descent" became clearer, and for me that's when things really took off. The section made up of correspondence between the Professor, his doctors, and the people from his life was fascinating, drawing in all these different realities. The book is a bit of a tough start, but very worth finishing.

  • Uthpala Dassanayake
    2019-03-04 08:33

    I certainly see this as cleverly written book. But unfortunately, sometimes there were long narrations I really couldn't place where its leading to, so I got bored. The beginning was interesting with giving some insight to the patient’s madness and revealing the disconnection between reality for sane and insane. But when he started on long narratives of his imaginary island life, most of the time I failed to relate incidents to any sensible things, probably, I missed a lot due to wavering in less interesting parts. Then, as his real life and his opinions and views as a sane man was revealed, I could identify bits and pieces from reality flashing in his madness. That was a nice effect. Maybe, you have to read “A Briefing For a Descent Into Hell” twice to get the maximum of it. I haven’t tried it yet.

  • Laura
    2019-03-07 07:26

    She has some lovely phrasings and poetic leanings, which makes for beautiful and lyrical reading. However, the first half of the book is quite difficult to understand, and I was not satisfied with the conclusion. It certainly had promise, and perhaps I'll like it better on a re-read.

  • Matthew
    2019-03-23 06:25

    I guess in the time of the book, the word "neurodiversity" hadn't been coined yet. But this book, with its experimental form and somewhat taboo topic, reads like a compassionate but tragic apology for neurodiversity. It's tragic, for as we follow the hero's journey we see the Normal as it is: a kind of censor that compels us to discard the spontaneous emergence of values rooted from exactly the Normalcy itself, and the hero is at odds with this compulsion. It shows the inherent oddity of the Normal: that it is a double bind, forbidden to contravene but at the same time impossible to comply with. We survive, when we accept it as our own; but we grow, when we see it as the double bind it is.In the former case, it means surrendering; and in the latter, evolving. And in either case, we suffer the loss of what we construct as the "identity", perhaps followed by mourning. This is the price that must be paid no matter what.Perhaps, if we read it this way, the ending may not seem that tragic. There is some ambiguity about how the hero ultimately turns out. The text doesn't rule out a subversive reading and extrapolation.The style is sort of close to James Joyce's Ulysses or John Gardner's Grendel. It shifts between various "genres" such as stream-of-consciousness, magic realism, play, epistolary novel, tacky Eastern-bloc propaganda war-time romance, contemplative essay, and conventional fiction with a third-person omnipresent reliable narrator. And it's not divided into chapters. I guess this is part of the amorphous metafiction parallel to the text (if you read the book you'll see what I mean by "parallel") -- to heck with the walls that divide genres, whether they're genres of literature or of humans.

  • Cristian Stan
    2019-03-09 06:09

    to be reviewed

  • Konstantin
    2019-03-13 13:27

    [rating = B-]This is my second novel by Miss Lessing, and I must say that I am always impressed by her skill and versatility as a writer. This novel takes place (mainly) in a hospital ward where Professor Charles Watkins has suffered from loss of memory. From his delusions (or what he believes to be a reality or at the least an alternative reality) to letters from his doctors to family and friends, this novel takes the reader to the imaginative coasts of mysterious metaphysical islands to Space to the mind of someone overworked and a "zombie". The first part is mainly the dreams (or perhaps they are really buried memories inaccessible consciously) of Charles: a sailor whose companions have been taken by a "crystal", and then his journey to an island that very metaphorical and poetic happenings there and then back to a semi-reality in the hospital. Doris Lessing does wonders with parallels, matching animals and literary/biblical references to make the dream-state of the professor quite realistic. She gives similar characteristics (golden eyes) to show creatures that are of the sun and are, supposedly, sent to this lunatic professor on this island as a guide; of course there are obstacles like the bloody woman whom eat like savages and dance around a fire, a temptation that he falls prey to; and other symbols of social hierarchy and the idea that humanity needs to work together instead of fighting amongst themselves. But then she goes with some very intelligent, erudite jargon of the world's nearing destruction at the hands of humanity (shown through a cast of "gods" "Merk Ury" (as Mercury, as so forth) and a planetary/gods conference to discuss the situation on Earth. Quite interesting but at times lengthy and boring. The end is not unpredictable though it seems mainly to be there to say that we all must return to normality, that sometimes taking a chance is worth the risk of losing something once thought to be the entirety of ourselves, our essence. Yet I still rather enjoyed this book on the conscious and unconscious and the ideas that Lessing instills, of family and of the ecological effects humanity has, and the psychological ware-and-tare that happens over time to people. In all a very good book, if not a little bit preachy.

  • Andrew Lasher
    2019-03-25 12:32

    Doris Lessing may have won every literary award in Europe, including the Nobel Prize for Literature, but this novel is a stinker. I imagine it is supposed to combine some sort of science fiction with a psychological analysis of mental illness, but it just came across as uninspired drivel to me.I read this book over the course of about two years because I just simply could not force my way through it. This might have affected how I feel about the book, but truthfully, had the story any merit, it wouldn't have taken me two years to read it. A full half of the book is taken up by a stream of consciousness monologue by the main character, a man who is suffering from amnesia/schizophrenia and has been admitted to a psych ward. I have no problems with stream of consciousness, hey, I eat Naked Lunch for breakfast, but this goes nowhere.When I finally managed to slog through to the end, I was rewarded with a...oh, I was rewarded with nothing. People in other reviews are claiming that this is a book that you either "get" or "don't get". Either I fall into the latter, or there is nothing to this bet is that there is just nothing worthwhile there.

  • Harry Allagree
    2019-03-15 12:09

    The low rating I'm giving the book has nothing to do with the eminent author, Doris Lessing, the subject matter of her book, or her writing. It's a truly noble attempt to "walk in the shoes" of a mentally ill person: incredibly courageous & remarkable, since Lessing wrote this in 1971! Dealing with the systemic familial challenges involved in mental illness & such a controversial treatment as E.C.T. (Electro-Convulsive Therapy), even today, is a monumental task. I know this firsthand from experience with several family members, my late mother included.Nevertheless, and probably because I simply understand little about the causes of the "mechanics" of mental illness, the first half of the book was almost totally incomprehensible to me. And, yes, I was tempted several times simply to set the book aside. I'm glad that I didn't, because the last third of the book was helpful and, at times, inspiring.

  • Adrian Stratulat
    2019-02-22 06:35

    This book takes you on an unsuspected ride. It starts with what appears to be a two-faceted incursion into the mind and life of a mentally ill patient: once recorded from the outside and once from inside his mind.But it ia something much, much deeper. It is a journey into the nature of reality, a story of how mankind descended from Unity and it is desperately trying to gain it back. Many will see it as just a metaphor. I dare say it is more than that and I have a huge respect for Doris Lessing in understanding that.This book is ultimately about human condition: as illusory separated aspects of God, wondering around the world, trying to remember our true nature.

  • Lee Foust
    2019-03-15 14:19

    Well, I made it almost exactly half-way through. While I love the title and appreciated the experimental and very free-form approach, I was neither entertained nor illuminated by this. I'm glad it exists, perhaps other will enjoy its mysteries and fantasy/sci-fiesque new-aginess, but it left me cold. I was impressed it was concerned with global warming (as early as 1971!) but, when the goddess Venus called science just another human religion, well, that was that for me.

  • Manny
    2019-02-25 06:35

    I suppose I could write all sorts of pseudo-intellectual nonsense about this book if I really had to. If you prefer my honest opinion, it's rather like Iain Banks's Walking on Glass but not as entertaining.

  • Chiefdonkey Bradey
    2019-03-03 11:35

    I finished this book profoundly moved and shaken - haunted by the sense of how we know there is a different reality and way of seeing to that of the every day - how we are, in that everyday, asleep - thought of Gurdjieff, and his thoughts here ....

  • ZaRi
    2019-03-21 10:30

    "Sleep is harder to reach and thinner, and sleeping is no longer the Drop into the black pit all oblivion until the alarm clock, no, sleep is thin and fitful and full of memories and reminders and the dark is never dark enough."

  • Adam
    2019-03-10 09:23

    around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around...Alright. Briefed. Pretty good, although a pretty severe left turn from the excellent beginning.

  • Caro
    2019-03-03 12:10

    I was tempted to abandon it at first but I knew it would pay off eventually and it did but I don't know how or why. I just don't know.

  • H.K
    2019-03-25 08:30

    This is such a powerful book, despite me not liking it very much towards the end. The book is jarring, it alienates you and creeps you out with its style and writing. This form in itself is a reflection of the book and the message it's trying to deliver. I loved how unconventional it is, how out of the familiar and confusing it is. Just as the protagonist is, so to speak. I would not expect anything less from Doris Lessing, this books as all others I've read of her, is a must read for everyone.