Friday, June 8, 2012

A Proper Marriage

1954, 1966 New American Library edition
Doris Lessing
A Proper Marriage
Original price unknown, purchase price $1.95
Falling apart paperback

So I was on the bus yesterday and the young man sitting behind me tapped my shoulder and asked if this was a good book.  I said it was pretty good.  He said he wondered because he noticed how worn it was and thought it must be good.  I said, "Well, it's from the '60s."  (I didn't want to explain about editions vs. copyrights.)  He asked what it's about.  I said it's about an unhappily married woman during World War II, and it's sort of depressing.

I don't know that it's any more depressing than Martha Quest, although the view of marriage, love, and now motherhood remains bleak.  The reason for the lower score is that at some point Lessing gets fed up with passive Martha (understandable), and starts using the perspectives of other people, who turn out to be even more pathetic than Martha.  Our "heroine" gets pregnant on accident, considers an abortion but is too drifty to decide (of course), has the baby under heart-breaking but I suppose once standard circumstances (that is, a strict "nursing home" that has the babies cry for hours while the mothers' breasts leak milk), raises her by the book (even though Martha is supposed to be unconventional), drifts into an almost-affair, and eventually drifts into separating from her husband.  By this point, the few people who understand that Martha is unhappy, such as her father and the too-awesome-for-this-series Jasmine Cohen, wonder what's taking her so long.

If this was what Lessing was like in her youth, I wonder how she ever got her act together enough to be the successful novelist she became.  Or did she just drift into publishing?

I will admit that Martha is a victim of society blah blah, and it is interesting to see how bad women had it in the 1940s (and '50s), but that doesn't mean it's worth reading.  I told the stranger it was "pretty good," because there are moments that it is, and who wants to bad-mouth a book in person?  That's what the Internet is for.

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