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The Boat Was My Friend

...The cliff edge of workaday morality

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The Good Terrorist - Doris Lessing

The Good Terrorist is Alice Mellings, a mid-thirties London radical who puts her heart and soul into restoring a derelict home as the base for her group, part of the Communist Centre Union, a small political party of activists in the middle of Thatcherism in Britain, who aspire to join the IRA (or even the Soviets). 

Alice blazes with energy and bursts with conflicts. She passionately declares she HATES the middle-class that serves the “shitty fucking filthy lying cruel hypocritical system”, but she’s a college graduate with studies on politics and economics and comes from a bourgeois family in freaking Hampstead. She considers herself a committed Communist, but she hasn't even read Marx or Lenin. Conflict and ambiguity is also the focal point of the book in general: collective interest against personal ambitions, revolutionaries versus the upper-class and actuality against idealism.

That’s not to say that Alice and her comrades are stupid or unsure of what they are after; they know what they are after, but sometimes people get caught in the web of the idea of life and reality instead of living their actual lives and that’s exactly what's happening to the young activists in this novel. They’re not stupid; they are naive.

In the context of the above, what I found unique about this book is that the portrayal of the complex and contradictory personality that is Alice Mellings goes to incredible depth and that’s done with simple words! Doris Lessing's prose is clean, intense and straightforward, but while there’s nothing over-sophisticated about it, the message that goes through is a very sophisticated one. 

And I couldn't help the parallelisations between Alice Mellings and Alice in Wonderland and that was a wicked effect of the reading experience ..or maybe side-effect; who knows if this was Lessing’s intention in the first place!

However, there’s a hitch. In addition to all that, Alice and her friends are beyond incompetent and superficially knowledgeable. It's almost getting suspicious. They are inept to the extent that sometimes it feels as if the book was only destined to offer relief to the upper class --> So, there’s nothing to worry about folks, because all those radical thinkers are just pathetic useless wankers and we couldn't be bothered. *clap clap clap*.

Therefore, as insane as the character portrayal is (of Alice mostly; the others are more or less two-dimensional), I found that the exceptional literary value is somewhat undermined by the not-so-successful (I wouldn't say failed ; she doesn't fail) depiction of that unknown to the reader corner of society, in a way that’s believable. The problem is not the lack of objectivity. On the contrary, for me that’s desirable. I want fiction to reflect the author, so I’m always looking for emotion and subjectivity and I will look for objectivity elsewhere. When I read history. The problem is oversimplification. It makes things less convincing.

And I know this is a common criticism of the book, but it is so for a reason.