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A Proper Marriage

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The second book in the Nobel Prize for Literature winner's 'Children of Violence' series tracing the life of Martha Quest from her childhood in colonial Africa to old age in post-nuclear Britain. The second book in the Nobel Prize for Literature winner's 'Children of Violence' series tracing the life of Martha Quest from her childhood in colonial Africa to old age in post-nuclear Britain.


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The second book in the Nobel Prize for Literature winner's 'Children of Violence' series tracing the life of Martha Quest from her childhood in colonial Africa to old age in post-nuclear Britain. The second book in the Nobel Prize for Literature winner's 'Children of Violence' series tracing the life of Martha Quest from her childhood in colonial Africa to old age in post-nuclear Britain.

30 review for A Proper Marriage

  1. 4 out of 5

    Warwick

    This is page after page after page of close, conscientious fiction-writing, of the old-fashioned sort that tries unironically to put you in the mind of someone else. So successful is Lessing that after reading two books in this sequence, I genuinely feel like I've experienced growing up as a woman in 1930s Rhodesia. I can recommend the experience! Having watched Martha Quest grow from a girl into a young woman during book one, here we see her grapple with the emotions of marriage, pregnancy and m This is page after page after page of close, conscientious fiction-writing, of the old-fashioned sort that tries unironically to put you in the mind of someone else. So successful is Lessing that after reading two books in this sequence, I genuinely feel like I've experienced growing up as a woman in 1930s Rhodesia. I can recommend the experience! Having watched Martha Quest grow from a girl into a young woman during book one, here we see her grapple with the emotions of marriage, pregnancy and motherhood. Martha is not happily married but her unhappiness comes just as much from her own responses and expectations as from her dopey spouse; she second-guesses herself constantly, and spends hours analysing the extent to which she lives up, or down, to society's idea of a woman. After hours of determined concentration she would emerge with the phrase, ‘Women hate men who take them for granted.’ It would have done for a story in a magazine. But that impersonal ‘women’ was a comfort – briefly, for no sooner had she reached it than she saw the image that the words conjured up: something sought, wooed, capricious, bestowing favours. No, there was something extremely distasteful about that capricious female; no sooner had Martha caught a glimpse of her than she must repudiate her entirely: she was certainly from the past! The suggestion of coyness was unbearable. From the moment we realise Martha is going to have a baby – which is to say within the first twenty pages or so – we are in a frenzy of anticipation at the prospect of seeing this meticulous, forensic prose style brought to bear on the experience of childbirth. When it comes, it's a true tour-de-force – Lessing is equal to the challenge as no other writer I've encountered has been, at least to my (disinterested male) mind. Martha no longer had the energy to achieve a mild amusement. The small lit place in her brain was dimming most alarmingly with the pains. Every time, the light nearly went out; always, it flickered precariously and shone up again. Martha noted that something new was happening to time. The watch that lay six inches from her nose on her crooked arm said the pains were punctual at two minutes. But from the moment that the warning hot wave of pain swept up her back, she entered a place where there was no time at all. An agony so unbelievable gripped her that her astounded and protesting mind cried out it was impossible such pain should be. It was a pain so violent that it was no longer pain, but a condition of being. Every particle of flesh shrieked out, while the wave spurted like an electric current from somewhere in her backbone and went through her in shock after shock. The wave receded, however, just as she had decided she would disintegrate under it, and then she felt the fist that gripped her slowly loosen. Through the sweat in her eyes she saw that ten seconds had passed… This goes on and on for several pages of sustained unsentimentality. Indeed Lessing's entire depiction of motherhood is an unsentimental one – Martha is determined to be independent, and though she loves her daughter, the child, like the husband, is in the final analysis an impediment to her freedom. One by one the misty-eyed clichés are dismantled, with an almost perverse need to uncover the negative realities. That phrase, ‘having a baby’, which was every girl's way of thinking of a first child, was nothing but a mask to conceal the truth. One saw a flattering image of a madonna-like woman with a helpless infant in her arms; nothing could be more attractive. What one did not see, what everyone conspired to prevent one seeing, was the middle-aged woman who has done nothing but produce two or three commonplace and tedious citizens in a world that was already too full of them. (In many of Lessing's sentences there is a single word choice that lifts the whole thought on to a higher level; here, I think, it's ‘citizens’.) I suspect there are probably few women, however fulfilled and delighted with their own choices, who won't see at least some aspects of truth in Martha's postpartum-depressive ruminations. Even now this is not a subject well covered in fiction, and in part this seems to have been Lessing's motivation for writing – one throwaway remark gives you a clue to the genesis of the whole book: But what is most difficult is this: If you read novels and diaries, women didn't seem to have these problems. Is it really conceivable that we should have turned into something quite different in the space of about fifty years? Or do you suppose they didn't tell the truth, the novelists? In the books, the young and idealistic girl gets married, has a baby – she at once turns into something quite different; and she is perfectly happy to spend her whole life bringing up children with a tedious husband. I was riveted by my exposure to the mores and prejudices of this peculiar time and place; and even in its most boring moments, that livewire feeling of access to another person's mind, another person's thought processes, kept me hooked. Love Martha or hate her, but it's heady stuff.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    This picks up straight after book one, Martha Quest, and is a continuation of Lessing's exploration of female experience in the second half of the twentieth century. Martha is married now though she can't quite articulate to herself why and, inevitably, pregnancy and motherhood are about to enter her life. Reading this today, it feels part of a sub-genre of autobiographically-led female-authored fiction that unpicks and kicks back against the social constraints that defined 'feminine' in the mid- This picks up straight after book one, Martha Quest, and is a continuation of Lessing's exploration of female experience in the second half of the twentieth century. Martha is married now though she can't quite articulate to herself why and, inevitably, pregnancy and motherhood are about to enter her life. Reading this today, it feels part of a sub-genre of autobiographically-led female-authored fiction that unpicks and kicks back against the social constraints that defined 'feminine' in the mid-twentieth century. First published in 1954, it must surely have been radically rebellious, even subversive. Despite being set in what was then Rhodesia, there is less about racial politics than we might expect though it's there in the background as Martha resents the openly abhorrent views of her friends. But her views are intuitive rather than politically-informed and it's in this book that her political consciousness starts to really stir against a background of WW2. I think this book - and series - is one that I would have consumed avidly if I'd read it when I was Martha's own age (19 when the book opens). Now, it feels a bit like the chaotic raw material that Lessing used with far more technical proficiency in her iconic The Golden Notebook. That's not to say this isn't compulsive reading - it is - it's just that I feel I've read it before. Technically, Lessing puts us as close to Martha's inner thoughts as possible without falling into stream of consciousness. We feel like we're living and experiencing Martha's life with her from her vexed relationship with her body to her searching for the source of her inner discontents. The chapter as she gives birth must, surely, have been shockingly frank for the time, as must have been Martha's ambivalences about motherhood, reflecting Lessing's own decisions. It's hard not to see this as an era-defining book that provided a launch-pad for other feminist rebellion narratives - I'd shelve this alongside The Bell Jar, just be aware it's looser and baggier than Plath's taut, tense, furious text.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    This novel follows Martha Quest and personally I advise readers to come to this after reading the beginning of Martha's story. The tone of self reproach (taking Martha to be an avatar of the author) is perhaps a little softer here, and the character seems more psychologically independent from her creator and a stronger individual, although she is still written as someone at the mercy of the currents she strays into (making her tale a perfect canvas to sketch the contours of a history). Once This novel follows Martha Quest and personally I advise readers to come to this after reading the beginning of Martha's story. The tone of self reproach (taking Martha to be an avatar of the author) is perhaps a little softer here, and the character seems more psychologically independent from her creator and a stronger individual, although she is still written as someone at the mercy of the currents she strays into (making her tale a perfect canvas to sketch the contours of a history). Once again it is amusing and infuriating and it strikes uncomfortably true how everyone says something other than what they feel and does something other than what they say! Martha's relationship with her parents continues in the same vein, but Lessing deepens the reader's insight into it. I love how she develops the scene, the atmosphere, the tension, to emphasise the significance of some ostensibly banal exchange. One thing that connects with me is Martha's painful attention to her own body; this is distinctly female writing, capturing the self-regarding aspect of feminine sexuality encultured by the trope of the female body as a prize. But it goes beyond, it goes far beyond that trope of the 'flawless' teenage body as 'a sharp sword' (to enter into what battle? How can we unthink sexuality as violence?) marked, unmade, desecrated by childbirth, though all these anxieties weigh in and meet critical attention. Martha's body, Lessing notes, is 'sanctioned for use by society' and thus marked by contrast as rightfully her own. How Martha experiences her body and navigates her own and others' claims on it is written in the light of that feminist bottom line. Lessing also has much to say about dressing the body, she is an author who largely ignores food but energetically writes the significance of clothes, the fraught surface of signs we write on the body, which presents a canvas varyingly cooperative and disruptive to what we intend or are forced to communicate. The detailed account of giving birth was very striking. I can't remember where I read that all women cry out for their mothers in labour... where do we go, what selves do we inhabit in that place of primal pain? Time itself is out of shape, memory is broken, sensation fills the universe like a scriptural ocean. I was painfully enervated by the account of Martha's experience in the nursing home; Lessing emphasises the senselessness and stupidity of separating mothers and babies and restricting feeding to regimented hours. This destructive imposition reflects the colonial attitude to nature, to all things outside the mind, at all levels; prosperity is attained through arbitrary discipline. As in Martha Quest, the side of the novel concerned with political meetings was not very interesting to me, but I found the politics of the personal, especially the gender dynamics of Martha's marriage, utterly compelling. The set-piece at the club where the black waiter was made to dance in MQhad a parallel scene in this book, where children from the 'Coloured' community performed a variety show for a White audience. Despite its politically innocuous (indeed vacuous) content, the effect is near incendiary, and illuminates some of the distinctive features of racial emotion-politics in white-occupied Southern Africa. The scenes of Douglas and Perry at the army hospital were also fascinating to me. Unlike in Martha Quest, where Lessing sketches the White character through appearance in author voice, here she uses an English army doctor's observations to underline the key trait of wounded entitlement that Martha also observes in Douglas. His murderous proprietorial attitude towards his family, typical of the patriarchal indoctrinate, is again shown to be part and parcel of the colonial mindset. My favourite scene in the book has heavily pregnant women amok in the rain, luxuriating in mud holes like hippos. Civilisation and liberation stand at opposite poles here.

  4. 4 out of 5

    El

    On Friday night, I was sitting at table with a few coworkers I can tolerate at our office holiday dinner and found myself thinking of this book. The holiday dinner is a formal-ish affair, held in a nice banquet space. People are in their holiday, squeaky-clean-finest. While I enjoy the sitting, talking, eating, and drinking parts, the dinner involves other things I'm not very good at and do not enjoy: the mingling, the small-talk, the awkward holiday hugs that are close to turning into someone a On Friday night, I was sitting at table with a few coworkers I can tolerate at our office holiday dinner and found myself thinking of this book. The holiday dinner is a formal-ish affair, held in a nice banquet space. People are in their holiday, squeaky-clean-finest. While I enjoy the sitting, talking, eating, and drinking parts, the dinner involves other things I'm not very good at and do not enjoy: the mingling, the small-talk, the awkward holiday hugs that are close to turning into someone accidentally grabbing a boob or bumping junk, the balancing of plates at the buffet table without making a mess, or fear of inevitably spilling my wine. I found myself thinking about this book this year because this book is (amongst other topics) about responsibility. Each year I wonder why I put myself through these holiday dinners, especially considering I had given my boyfriend a pass this year by not making him come with me. And the answer comes down to Responsibility. Being the second book in the Children of Violence series, Martha Quest is newly married and fresh off her honeymoon. We watch her experiences move from young naivety to a disillusioned woman once she realizes that marriage is really about losing her identity. On the cusp of the war she finds herself imprisoned even further when she realizes she is pregnant. This is a story about responsibility: to herself and her individual nature, to her unborn child, to her husband, to her family, to her commitments, to her passions. She struggles to mitigate her beliefs and morals with what is expected of her as a woman, wife, and mother. I found myself reading this book slowly, much more slowly than I had expected when I first sat down with it. I don't recall Martha Quest moving this slowly, which isn't to say that this is a difficult or uninteresting book. On the contrary, this is a fascinating read, and as a woman (even though no longer 19, not married, and childless) I could relate to Martha's experiences in some surprising ways. But it's a slow read because it's like the air is slowly being sucked out of your lungs while you read. I found myself feeling claustrophobic while reading, like someone was holding me back, holding me down, putting a pillow over my face. We all struggle at some point in our lives with what it means to be Responsible. We build our lives and fill it with obligations, whether it's a family, a job (or a career), a home with a mortgage (or rent), and soon we find ourselves saying "I can't do [fill in the blank], that wouldn't be Responsible." We hold ourselves back because that's Expected, it's Responsible, we have Obligations. Even some people I know who consider themselves "free" are the ones who travel the least, leave their homes the least, have the fewest adventures, and are just stuck in some other self-created confinement. As the story moves along, we see Martha start to move away from the expected responsibilities and back to what she knew as as a free-spirited child in the first book - responsibility to herself. It's exciting and refreshing to watch this progression, to see a female character throw off some of the confines of her society at an attempt to find herself through her work, her beliefs, her politics, and, often, her books: Books. Words. There must surely be some pattern of words which would neatly and safely cage what she felt - isolate her emotions so that she could look at them from outside. For she was of that generation who, having found nothing in religion, had formed themselves by literature. And the books which spoke most directly were those which had come out of Western Europe during the past hundred years, and of those, the personal and self-confessing. And so she knelt in front of a bookcase, in driving need of the right arrangement of words; for it is a remarkable fact that she was left unmoved by criticisms of the sort of person she was by parents, relations, preachers, teachers, politicians and the people who write for the newspapers; whereas an unsympathetic description of a character similar to her own in a novel would send her into a condition of anxious soul-searching for days. page 62 I won't say that I love this book, but it is great. I enjoyed it a lot more than I did Martha Quest because I could relate to it, even during the horrifying childbirth scene, something I've never experienced and have no intentions of experiencing. I think anyone could relate to this - male, female, doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because even though this book involves many "feminine issues", everyone can relate to the prison created by responsibilities and obligations. Everyone.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Iamthesword

    Another Lessing, another great read. It's the next chapter in Martha Quest's quest (sorry) and again, Lessing excels in describing Martha's life in a complex, layered way. After doing everything hastly in the first book (moving to town, marrying Douglas), Martha's life slows down more and more in this one. Her husband has a "respectable" career and wants a "respectable" life, so Martha gets more and more reduced to a housewife and mother. At the same time, Martha tries to sort out what type of l Another Lessing, another great read. It's the next chapter in Martha Quest's quest (sorry) and again, Lessing excels in describing Martha's life in a complex, layered way. After doing everything hastly in the first book (moving to town, marrying Douglas), Martha's life slows down more and more in this one. Her husband has a "respectable" career and wants a "respectable" life, so Martha gets more and more reduced to a housewife and mother. At the same time, Martha tries to sort out what type of life she wants to live and whether this will be possible in this marriage. The whole unfolding process of the crumbling marriage to me was the strongpoint of the novel. The description of the pregnancy early in the marriage was at times painful, especially towards the end of it when her body gets controlled more and more and external expectations seem to overwhelm her while she's still unsure about how to feel about motherhood. But also the arguments with her husband, the anger, the (self)hate, feelings of helplessness and insecurity, they really got to me. Doris Lessing again manages to marvellously put in front of the reader how political, societal, economic and emotional factors mix and overlap and conflict with each other and what pressure this puts onto her main character. I had some minor issues though: I was so excited for said parts of the book that it felt almost like a distraction when the novel left her - like in the middle part when it follows Douglas' experience in the army for a while. These changes of perspective were good and interesting, but felt just a little bit out of place because I was so close to Martha at that point and the other inside perpectives couldn't reach the same level of depth. For the same reasons, I didn't like the time jumps, sometimes skipping months which seemed a bit unbalanced when sometimes days were described in great detail. Finally, there is a bit of exposition towards the end, laying out the base for the more political Martha Quest - something I'm totally looking forward to, but it just lacked payoff in this volume. But as I said that were minor issues and Lessing manages to bring this volume to a very intense final on the last 20 pages. She proves again that she is a masterful author I highly recommend to read. And now I'm fixed for A RIPPLE FROM THE STORM!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Reads & Reviews

    Martha Quest. The name is appropriate. During this work, and the previous novel, I disliked Martha. Every gentle or humane action, or emotion, is crushed, either by the object, or by Martha's own determination to avoid sentimentality. She identifies frailty, and carves it away, either by laughter, or self-discipline. This determination makes her a cold mother, a shallow friend, and a temporary wife. I hoped she would allow herself one carefree, emotional indulgence. But no. Even an affair she in Martha Quest. The name is appropriate. During this work, and the previous novel, I disliked Martha. Every gentle or humane action, or emotion, is crushed, either by the object, or by Martha's own determination to avoid sentimentality. She identifies frailty, and carves it away, either by laughter, or self-discipline. This determination makes her a cold mother, a shallow friend, and a temporary wife. I hoped she would allow herself one carefree, emotional indulgence. But no. Even an affair she intends to have is measured and without delusions. Youthful idealism bobs to the surface at times, but doesn't last. Martha is thirsty for passion and a sense of purpose, but no cause, or person, can carry the burden of her idealism for long. So, I did not like her, but I was fascinated by her internal quest, and her reactions to the society that developed during British colonization of Africa. By the end, I changed in my opinion. I found an odd respect for Martha. She is true to her principles, even when being so proves to be difficult. Youth is less fearful of the results of their actions, so her courage is fueled by optimism and self-confidence. She is tempted by sentimentality, such as the desire to stay with her child, but she gives up a life of security. Irresponsible? Yes but the child will be well tended, and Martha acknowledged that the child, Caroline, would be better off without her. In the real world, I would criticize a mother who abandons her child, but not one that leaves an unsatisfactory marriage. Martha has a tendency to go with the flow, then to become highly critical. She has an inner strength and sense of conviction that is rare in that she finally decides to take action. Her insights are interesting. My plan was to intersperse other novels before continuing the series. Is it a surprise that my mind has changed?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Saj

    This to me was very much a feminist book. A book about a woman with visions and passions who hasn't yet discovered her own voice or strength. It seems like things are just happening to her while her inner thoughts rebel quietly. It could be a frustrating read if it wasn't so realistic. Martha is not a hero, she is woman living in a turbulent time when people are mostly lost and the future is uncertain to say the least. Martha's often contradictory feelings and thoughts were very familiar to me fr This to me was very much a feminist book. A book about a woman with visions and passions who hasn't yet discovered her own voice or strength. It seems like things are just happening to her while her inner thoughts rebel quietly. It could be a frustrating read if it wasn't so realistic. Martha is not a hero, she is woman living in a turbulent time when people are mostly lost and the future is uncertain to say the least. Martha's often contradictory feelings and thoughts were very familiar to me from my own early 20s. The realities of growing up as a woman are far from simple.

  8. 4 out of 5

    James F

    The second book of the Children of Violence series. This was better than the first book. It is a perceptive look at relationships and politics in Rhodesia at the time of the Second World War. The feminist main theme may not seem as radical now as it did in the fifties -- or even in the early seventies when I read this for the first time -- but it is very well-done, especially in that it is not strident but shows the protagonist as struggling within her own mind between her ideal of what a relati The second book of the Children of Violence series. This was better than the first book. It is a perceptive look at relationships and politics in Rhodesia at the time of the Second World War. The feminist main theme may not seem as radical now as it did in the fifties -- or even in the early seventies when I read this for the first time -- but it is very well-done, especially in that it is not strident but shows the protagonist as struggling within her own mind between her ideal of what a relationship should be and her traditional upbringing, between wanting to be free and active and also wanting to be the perfect wife and mother. I read this immediately after reading George Eliot's Middlemarch, and was struck that this is in the same tradition, in fact that it could be considered [Middlemarch plus eighty years; the theme of the intelligent woman who feels for the underprivileged lower classes and rejects some of the conventions of her time, who enters into a disastrous marriage thinking her husband is similar to her, and struggles against the social conventions that hem her in. There are also major differences; in the twentieth century, there are more options available, the conventions are more internalized than imposed from without, and most importantly Lessing does not, as Eliot almost has to, present the solution in the form of "rescue" by a more suitable husband. Frankly, I think Lessing is the better writer, at least by today's standards; the psychology is deeper and more conscious, and the protagonist is more confused and conflicted within herself, more believable than the too perfect Dorothea in the Victorian novel. That this is at least partly autobiographical makes it seem much more real. The political aspect is also quite credible, unlike most novels I have read. This was one of my favorites when I read it first forty years ago, and it still is after re-reading it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marty

    Love Doris Lessing. Can't wait to read the next one. Love Doris Lessing. Can't wait to read the next one.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John

    I'm a conventional male who had a happy childhood and a good marriage (55 years so far this coming December) with a wife who wanted children and who bore 7. So it should be no surprise to anyone reading this review (if there is anyone) when I say I found Martha Quest to be shallow, selfish, and rather foolish. She is rather young in this second book of Lessing's 5-volume Children of Violence series so perhaps those qualities should not be entirely unexpected. She rejected religion and many (not I'm a conventional male who had a happy childhood and a good marriage (55 years so far this coming December) with a wife who wanted children and who bore 7. So it should be no surprise to anyone reading this review (if there is anyone) when I say I found Martha Quest to be shallow, selfish, and rather foolish. She is rather young in this second book of Lessing's 5-volume Children of Violence series so perhaps those qualities should not be entirely unexpected. She rejected religion and many (not all) of it's values, married apparently without considering the long-term consequences, had a child rather against her will (although she eventually warmed to the idea), and left her child and husband to pursue her own desires which apparently no longer included them. Martha's attitude about children in general (i.e. "commonplace and tedious citizens in a world that was already too full of them") is appalling. She did have the significant virtues of lack of prejudice toward other races and sympathy for those who were less advantaged economically. But her idealism (particularly the notion that poverty could somehow be entirely eliminated) was quite unrealistic. She accepted the communist propaganda (as did Lessing in her younger life) that it, communism, would lead to a better world. Of course in those days the evils of the Russian communists were not so well exposed as they are today, so perhaps in a later volume Martha will reject communism as Lessing did. Many people (including myself) do foolish things in their youth and then improve with age, so perhaps the same will happen with Martha. I look forward to the remaining volumes in the series. Oh, as a final note, I hope that most, if not all, consider Martha's to be anything but A Proper Marriage. I can only assume that Lessing meant the title to be ironic.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    Roles for women and men, gender, racism, class, colonialism, British culture and politics prior to and during WW2 in Africa all included in this second book of Lessing's Children of Violence series. Roles for women and men, gender, racism, class, colonialism, British culture and politics prior to and during WW2 in Africa all included in this second book of Lessing's Children of Violence series.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ann M

    I wish Lessing's work was more well known in the U.S. True story: I was reading this on my lunch break at a temp job for an ad agency in NYC some years ago. One of the executives walked by, a man, and asked, "Is that a marriage manual? Are you getting married?" He was trying to be friendly, so I tried not to sledgehammer him too badly. I just said, "No, it's a novel by a famous author." Duh. I wish Lessing's work was more well known in the U.S. True story: I was reading this on my lunch break at a temp job for an ad agency in NYC some years ago. One of the executives walked by, a man, and asked, "Is that a marriage manual? Are you getting married?" He was trying to be friendly, so I tried not to sledgehammer him too badly. I just said, "No, it's a novel by a famous author." Duh.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mitchels

    This is a good story - book 2 of a series. Interesting observations about life in South Africa.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I loved this book. The descriptive passages were fantastic. I enjoyed the scene where Martha walks through her pantry enjoying the products around her.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Janine

    I guess I'm still naive enough to be surprised that Lessing's characters had such "modern" problems lo those 60 years ago. A slow, thoughtful book. I guess I'm still naive enough to be surprised that Lessing's characters had such "modern" problems lo those 60 years ago. A slow, thoughtful book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Vel Veeter

    This is the second book of a series of five novels that Doris Lessing wrote in the 1950s and 1960s, called “The Children of Violence.” The first book dealt with our protagonist, Martha Quest, growing up on a white-owned farm in Rhodesia (to be clear she is white and of British heritage). So this is a second in the series, and certainly an observant reader could pick up this book without needing a lot of information from the first book to move forward, but knowing the first book would make this mu This is the second book of a series of five novels that Doris Lessing wrote in the 1950s and 1960s, called “The Children of Violence.” The first book dealt with our protagonist, Martha Quest, growing up on a white-owned farm in Rhodesia (to be clear she is white and of British heritage). So this is a second in the series, and certainly an observant reader could pick up this book without needing a lot of information from the first book to move forward, but knowing the first book would make this much simpler. But because the first novel is about the home life of a teen in this situation, especially having the spread out, rural life. In this novel we start a few weeks after her marriage, at 19, to the first boy who showed the right amount of interest in her. And she hates it. He, for his part, is a relatively ok and decent person. So this isn’t a novel about an abusive relationship. It’s a novel about the failure of the institution, even focusing on and especially focusing on a relatively benign marriage. And so her attitude, a 19 year old’s petulance about being pinned down, is both reasonable and irrational at the same time, and makes for a good novel. It’s often funny and profoundly sad, without miring in specific misfortune. It’s the correct and true accounting of a life that was moved forward by cultural default, but not being reassessed by someone who never agreed to those defaults on her own. And because this book is from the 1950s and not from 2018, it’s kind of shocking and fresh in a lot of ways. You can easily give over to its ethos and feel the pain that Martha feels, while also not being shocked by her contemporaries’ inability to feel sympathy for her.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Steele Wotkyns

    Since I'm currently reading several of the author's novels, I may be a little biased. But, this is very clearly a major, successful and well worth-a-read work. While it's not my favorite Doris Lessing novel so far, it is nevertheless quite remarkable. The setting is authentic if kept purposefully generic, the characters are believable and well developed. Doris Lessing conveys a deep and tragic feeling of the entrapment of her protagonist and also writes a description of childbirth that is astoni Since I'm currently reading several of the author's novels, I may be a little biased. But, this is very clearly a major, successful and well worth-a-read work. While it's not my favorite Doris Lessing novel so far, it is nevertheless quite remarkable. The setting is authentic if kept purposefully generic, the characters are believable and well developed. Doris Lessing conveys a deep and tragic feeling of the entrapment of her protagonist and also writes a description of childbirth that is astonishing, revealing -- at least for a male reader. Near the end the "action" seems to drag a bit with a deeper dive into the political climate of the time, but the author has a plan and carries it out well thus rewarding the reader. I can at least recommend for others to perhaps do what I plan: read as many Doris Lessing works as possible, and come away much better for having done so.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daryn

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An astonishing novel about a young married woman discovering her independence. It is the second in Lessing's "Children of Violence" series. The first book, "Martha Quest," was a solid, if somewhat conventional coming of age story that ended with Martha getting married out of fear and desperation because of the onset of World War II. This book continues with Martha becoming increasingly bored and restless in her marriage to an ordinary middle-class guy, Douglas. She is repulsed by the slightest e An astonishing novel about a young married woman discovering her independence. It is the second in Lessing's "Children of Violence" series. The first book, "Martha Quest," was a solid, if somewhat conventional coming of age story that ended with Martha getting married out of fear and desperation because of the onset of World War II. This book continues with Martha becoming increasingly bored and restless in her marriage to an ordinary middle-class guy, Douglas. She is repulsed by the slightest embrace from him but eventually breaks down and has sex with him out of a sense of obligation. She becomes pregnant (she is the last to realize and accept her condition) and has conflicting thoughts about whether or not to have an abortion. She ends up keeping the baby, but then Douglas enlists to fight in the war and she is left to raise the baby alone. She falls in with a group of Communists and gets drawn into their internal squabbles. When her husband returns, she is unwilling to return to the way things were before and decides to leave him and the baby. They have a very violent and prolonged struggle over this decision, which is wrenching to read. Lessing confronts so many of the cultural and political touchstones of the postwar era here, including colonialism, Communism and feminism, in a story that has fully developed, complex characters and a satisfying narrative arc. She writes openly about abortion and sex and anticipates Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique by a decade. Lessing is capable of writing beautiful prose, but my sense is that she thought that was of secondary importance to her need to be forthright about her experience. There are occasional passages that seem like a rough draft, but that is a minor flaw in an otherwise exceptional novel. Even though Lessing is a Nobel laureate, I still don't think her literary achievement is fully appreciated.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Simon

    Such amazing writing. I haven't dog-eared a book for memorable passages (sorry, people who don't like dog-earing) like this in a long while. Beyond the fantastic prose, I have a few mixed emotions about the book. Some many characters seem pretty one-dimensional. Martha is the only one in the whole book we really get to know. Mostly it's OK that it's that way, because the reader's alienation from everybody else tracks Martha's alienation. But then there are just a few passages that are not from M Such amazing writing. I haven't dog-eared a book for memorable passages (sorry, people who don't like dog-earing) like this in a long while. Beyond the fantastic prose, I have a few mixed emotions about the book. Some many characters seem pretty one-dimensional. Martha is the only one in the whole book we really get to know. Mostly it's OK that it's that way, because the reader's alienation from everybody else tracks Martha's alienation. But then there are just a few passages that are not from Martha's perspective, and it feels a bit odd that 1) there are a few of these (as opposed to a lot or zero) and 2) we're put in the shoes of an otherwise one dimensional character. (Do we understand Douglas any better after following him around a Nyasaland airstrip for a a day or two? I don't think so). Planning on reading the other two in the series, eventually.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christa

    Another masterpiece from Lessing. The language is deliciously precise, the characters perfectly imperfect and somehow also allegorical in the sense that I could imagine them standing in for types or specific people I know. Was hard to read at times because of the self-reproach and self-doubt as a (very privileged) woman that are so familiar. As in Lessing’s other books I’ve read, I was particularly fascinated by the political, racial, and ethnic through-lines intersecting with the central plot o Another masterpiece from Lessing. The language is deliciously precise, the characters perfectly imperfect and somehow also allegorical in the sense that I could imagine them standing in for types or specific people I know. Was hard to read at times because of the self-reproach and self-doubt as a (very privileged) woman that are so familiar. As in Lessing’s other books I’ve read, I was particularly fascinated by the political, racial, and ethnic through-lines intersecting with the central plot of Martha’s inner life. On to the next in the series!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Divya

    I wish I had read this at 19 or 20. Still, a fascinating ride through the minds and lives of Martha and her contemporaries. It is specifically of its time and place (but also much more broadly relatable). This is book #2 in the series. The description of political awakening probably works better if you've already read the first book (I haven't yet). I look forward to seeing how she develops it. I wish I had read this at 19 or 20. Still, a fascinating ride through the minds and lives of Martha and her contemporaries. It is specifically of its time and place (but also much more broadly relatable). This is book #2 in the series. The description of political awakening probably works better if you've already read the first book (I haven't yet). I look forward to seeing how she develops it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katia Shulga

    Accidentally picked this book up in a hostel. It's part of a series and is a great depiction of a woman's life and choices in the war period in South Africa. One of the only books I've ever read where an author spends a whole chapter describing the experience of labour. It's excellent for giving the female point of view and what it means to marry because society expects you to. And of course, Lessing's language is beautiful. Accidentally picked this book up in a hostel. It's part of a series and is a great depiction of a woman's life and choices in the war period in South Africa. One of the only books I've ever read where an author spends a whole chapter describing the experience of labour. It's excellent for giving the female point of view and what it means to marry because society expects you to. And of course, Lessing's language is beautiful.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nora Rawn

    I picked this up mainly because Joan Didion is caustic about the trilogy in her White Album essays and I was curious. It's not clear at all to me why Didion singles the work out, unless she refuses to accept that other people's experience of marriage and motherhood can be different to hers. I found this fascinating for its look at the English colonial attitude in then-Rhodesia and for the Comintern politics, and will have to read the other books in the series now. I picked this up mainly because Joan Didion is caustic about the trilogy in her White Album essays and I was curious. It's not clear at all to me why Didion singles the work out, unless she refuses to accept that other people's experience of marriage and motherhood can be different to hers. I found this fascinating for its look at the English colonial attitude in then-Rhodesia and for the Comintern politics, and will have to read the other books in the series now.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Manson

    Doris Lessing is an exceptional writer. Her insights into the human condition are described with such elegant and precise language it's a pleasure to read. I often find myself re-reading phrases or passages. Some of the political and social historical aspects of plot may be lost on a younger generation, but the truth of her writing is timeless. Essential reading for anyone who is interested in the human condition. Part of the Children of Violence series but can be read as a standalone novel. Doris Lessing is an exceptional writer. Her insights into the human condition are described with such elegant and precise language it's a pleasure to read. I often find myself re-reading phrases or passages. Some of the political and social historical aspects of plot may be lost on a younger generation, but the truth of her writing is timeless. Essential reading for anyone who is interested in the human condition. Part of the Children of Violence series but can be read as a standalone novel.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ana Krallen

    well written but I could not identify myself with any of the characters, just wanted to shake the main character to make her decide something for herself, probably this is what the author wanted, but it was very stressing for me.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gabriela

    They say each book in the series stands on its own, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice to read Martha Quest and then not read A Proper Marriage. I liked it even more.

  27. 5 out of 5

    BoBandy

    Not a review, per se... Just wanted to say that this a marvelous book, but the cover illustration represents virtually nothing about it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Linda Steiger

    Sounds familiar, & the story of my mother's life in a way; the (losing) struggle of a liberated married woman in the 1930s. Sounds familiar, & the story of my mother's life in a way; the (losing) struggle of a liberated married woman in the 1930s.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Clivemichael

    Chilling assessments/observations well portayed

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anna Juliette

    LOVED THIS I LOVE DORIS. so many interesting comments on womanhood in relation to being a mother, a daughter, a wife, and a person. literlaly could not recommend more

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