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Thursday, 25 October 2007

Lessing At UEA

I saw new Nobel laureate Doris Lessing speak at UEA last night. She was very witty, alert, and "awkward" - her own word. She was also gracious - at the start of the hour Q&A she admitted to having a sore back, and a bad cough, but the 88-year-old had gamely kept her promise, and attended - a lesson to many younger "famous" writers who cancel appearances whenever they feel the slightest tinge of a cold coming on. Indeed, Lessing had words for the young - they were soft - in her day, people didn't expect to be happy, and weren't happy. They got on with things. They didn't expect money, and subsequently didn't mind not having it. She was very moving on the subject of her mother, with whom she battled for years. She recalled, in loving detail, how her mother would order books for her (parcels, shipped by boat) from London, that would take months to arrive in their African home - the opening of which were the highlights of her childhood. She also reiterated her recent claim that Tony Blair was "a little showman" and underlined, yet again, her feeling that "60s feminists" had done damage to women by "making political" their concerns. For Lessing, "political" is basically, and inherently, compromised. She does seem to me to be something of an unreconstructed humanist, but a very funny one. Her last words were to remember that inside, old people are still "young sparks". A spark can start a blaze.
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