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Frances Lennox ladles out dinner every night to the motley, exuberant, youthful crew assembled around her hospitable tableher two sons and their friends, girlfriends, ex-friends, and ftesh-off-the-street friends. It's the early 1960s and certainly "everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." Except financial circumstances demand that Frances and her sons Eve with her proper ex-mother-in-law. And her ex-husband, Comrade Johnny, has just dumped his second wife's problem child at Frances's feet. And the world's political landscape has suddenly become surreal beyond imagination....

Set against the backdrop of the decade that changed the world forever, The Sweetest Dream is a riveting look at a group of people who dared to dream-and faced the inevitable cleanup afterward -- from one of the greatest writers of our time.

Topics: Africa

Published: HarperCollins on Mar 17, 2009
ISBN: 9780061760334
List price: $8.99
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(#1 in the 2006 book challenge)I've never read anything by this author before. I liked this book a lot, the first half takes place in the 1960s and centers around a woman whose ex-husband is a Communist activist. She and her teenage children live with her ex-MIL, and the household includes a rotating cast of her children's friends. It's an interesting look at youth culture in England in the 60s. For some reason, every description of this book I've come across ends here. However, the second half of the book is set in the early 80s, and follows some of these teenagers (although now, obviously, adults), to Africa when AIDS is first emerging as an epidemic, and that was the half that I found more intriguing.Grade: A-Recommended: To people who like novels that are about political philosophies, but not necessarily endorsing any particular political view. This is also a good book about sorts of seemingly trivial yet somehow significant happenings that make up family life, only using an unconventional family model.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Well then. When I was a girl I read Doris Lessing as a guidebook for the creative and activist woman. You have to understand that that was in the 60's, and Lessing was a curious guide. I remember even seriously wondering if I ought, like the heroine in the Golden Notebook, to have different colored journals for various aspects of my life.

So she holds in my life the position of a sort of mentor. The Girl Scout Guide to rad feminine life. Though she was never quite so simpatico as many others of my heroes.

And then we come to The Sweetest Dream, an odd novel that is prefaced by her disclosure that she shall not write the 3rd volume of her autobiography (because it would cause harm to others still living), but that...in this novel, she hopes to reveal the truth about the 1960's. And so on.

Well, okay then, I'm up for it. I lived through the 1960's, eagerly reading her novels. Of course, I was not in England, and possibly the whole grand dream was different there. I had forgotten how very lacking in a sense of humor Lessing is, how ponderously she loathes the communists (with all the fervour that a fallen away Catholic devotes to the evils of the Papacy), and how she does go on and on and on and on and on and on about the Terrible Failings of Everyone Else.

I suppose a Nobel prize winning novelist is too daunting to be seriously edited? Because I would have slashed this book to ribbons. There is an interesting sub-novel, in the African section, but even that has that ponderous falsity.

And the heroes and villains are set sternly in place from the start, with little cardboard traits and no real sense of...anyone. It is a shadow play, all of it (with the possible exception of the more complex character of Julia).

The best part? A novel in which the house is a main character!read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The ambition is characteristic of the novelist. Doris Lessing's fable of two continents and three generations takes us to Aids-struck Africa, Wilhelmine Germany and a dolefully delineated north London milieu of good intent and mental illness, whose casualties limp through the narrative. The Sweetest Dream is also surely the saddest story- the savage cartography of a once fondly imagined land by one who was there. This is emotion recollected in hate.There's ideology by the bucket-load - some of it is the characters' rather than the author's. Chief culprit is "Comrade" Johnny Lennox, a diseased mind compounded of Marxist delusion and bourgeois self-hatred. Johnny loves humanity so much in the abstract that he gives himself licence to behave abominably to individuals, all the while self-justified by history's march. Even with the waning of the old faith, the psychology that sustained it is undiminished in its capacity to delude.We have been here before with The History Man, yet Malcolm Bradbury's malevolent was also a believable charmer possessed of a dangerous energy. And energy is a beguilingly moral quality which can seduce both good and bad; Jeffrey Archer has it. Lessing's Johnny is a machiavel of the Jacobean stage, a person whose wickedness is so obvious one wonders why anyone is taken in.This, however, is really a novel about women - heroic, striving, suffering, getting on with life and on in years, put upon, self-realising, getting there. There's noble German Julia, mother to ingrate Johnny, reading verses of scant consolation by Hopkins on the top floor of her Hampstead house. Downstairs in the kitchen is Frances, Johnny's abandoned wife, an earth-mother with a collection of waifs and strays attracted by self-abnegating benevolence and Elizabeth David recipes. There's practical Sylvia, who has the heart of the matter as well as Catholic faith. Being a bit of a lost cause at sex, she works in an African mission and then dies on the sitting room sofa. And then there's Rose, graduate of that kitchen-table school of bleeding hearts, who turns out to be a nasty combination of lefty rancour and tabloid values. This, then, is a woman thing - but emphatically not a feminist thing."The spirit of the Sixties, with passionate eyes, a trembling voice, and outstretched pleading hands, was confronting the whole past of the human race." And now here comes the flight from the enchantment, a summary and also an explanation of what went wrong. The best of the writing is reserved for Africa, where the Lessing genius for invocation of mood and place bounces off the page. But even here the anti-ideological ideology is well to the fore. Where international development is concerned, good intent's sweetest dream breeds a corruption of heart and mind that is recorded with a soi-disant Daily Mail abandon.Frances hears the rants of her understandably disturbed son, fresh from the psychiatrist's chair, subjecting her to "what no human being should ever have to hear - another person's uncensored thoughts". And the characters go in for a lot of such expression. There are echoes here of Iris Murdoch's later novels - an unhappy epoch when a vast array of indistinguishable characters filled the Dame's unedited pages with their hellishly inconsequential philosophising.This is a truly reactionary work in the limited sense that the author still stands at too close a remove to the object of abomination. In the full force of her reaction, she parodies and stereotypes. And there's an odd conflation of decades at work: though many in the 1960s and 1970s were soft on communism, the grand narrative had long since lost its interwar power to console.The Sweetest Dream is offered as a substitute for the third volume of the autobiography Doris Lessing will not write (lest she offend "vulnerable people"). But what emerges is an awkward melange lacking both the realism of great fiction and the truthfulness of history. The nuance that is needed for both is lost in rancour.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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(#1 in the 2006 book challenge)I've never read anything by this author before. I liked this book a lot, the first half takes place in the 1960s and centers around a woman whose ex-husband is a Communist activist. She and her teenage children live with her ex-MIL, and the household includes a rotating cast of her children's friends. It's an interesting look at youth culture in England in the 60s. For some reason, every description of this book I've come across ends here. However, the second half of the book is set in the early 80s, and follows some of these teenagers (although now, obviously, adults), to Africa when AIDS is first emerging as an epidemic, and that was the half that I found more intriguing.Grade: A-Recommended: To people who like novels that are about political philosophies, but not necessarily endorsing any particular political view. This is also a good book about sorts of seemingly trivial yet somehow significant happenings that make up family life, only using an unconventional family model.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Well then. When I was a girl I read Doris Lessing as a guidebook for the creative and activist woman. You have to understand that that was in the 60's, and Lessing was a curious guide. I remember even seriously wondering if I ought, like the heroine in the Golden Notebook, to have different colored journals for various aspects of my life.

So she holds in my life the position of a sort of mentor. The Girl Scout Guide to rad feminine life. Though she was never quite so simpatico as many others of my heroes.

And then we come to The Sweetest Dream, an odd novel that is prefaced by her disclosure that she shall not write the 3rd volume of her autobiography (because it would cause harm to others still living), but that...in this novel, she hopes to reveal the truth about the 1960's. And so on.

Well, okay then, I'm up for it. I lived through the 1960's, eagerly reading her novels. Of course, I was not in England, and possibly the whole grand dream was different there. I had forgotten how very lacking in a sense of humor Lessing is, how ponderously she loathes the communists (with all the fervour that a fallen away Catholic devotes to the evils of the Papacy), and how she does go on and on and on and on and on and on about the Terrible Failings of Everyone Else.

I suppose a Nobel prize winning novelist is too daunting to be seriously edited? Because I would have slashed this book to ribbons. There is an interesting sub-novel, in the African section, but even that has that ponderous falsity.

And the heroes and villains are set sternly in place from the start, with little cardboard traits and no real sense of...anyone. It is a shadow play, all of it (with the possible exception of the more complex character of Julia).

The best part? A novel in which the house is a main character!
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The ambition is characteristic of the novelist. Doris Lessing's fable of two continents and three generations takes us to Aids-struck Africa, Wilhelmine Germany and a dolefully delineated north London milieu of good intent and mental illness, whose casualties limp through the narrative. The Sweetest Dream is also surely the saddest story- the savage cartography of a once fondly imagined land by one who was there. This is emotion recollected in hate.There's ideology by the bucket-load - some of it is the characters' rather than the author's. Chief culprit is "Comrade" Johnny Lennox, a diseased mind compounded of Marxist delusion and bourgeois self-hatred. Johnny loves humanity so much in the abstract that he gives himself licence to behave abominably to individuals, all the while self-justified by history's march. Even with the waning of the old faith, the psychology that sustained it is undiminished in its capacity to delude.We have been here before with The History Man, yet Malcolm Bradbury's malevolent was also a believable charmer possessed of a dangerous energy. And energy is a beguilingly moral quality which can seduce both good and bad; Jeffrey Archer has it. Lessing's Johnny is a machiavel of the Jacobean stage, a person whose wickedness is so obvious one wonders why anyone is taken in.This, however, is really a novel about women - heroic, striving, suffering, getting on with life and on in years, put upon, self-realising, getting there. There's noble German Julia, mother to ingrate Johnny, reading verses of scant consolation by Hopkins on the top floor of her Hampstead house. Downstairs in the kitchen is Frances, Johnny's abandoned wife, an earth-mother with a collection of waifs and strays attracted by self-abnegating benevolence and Elizabeth David recipes. There's practical Sylvia, who has the heart of the matter as well as Catholic faith. Being a bit of a lost cause at sex, she works in an African mission and then dies on the sitting room sofa. And then there's Rose, graduate of that kitchen-table school of bleeding hearts, who turns out to be a nasty combination of lefty rancour and tabloid values. This, then, is a woman thing - but emphatically not a feminist thing."The spirit of the Sixties, with passionate eyes, a trembling voice, and outstretched pleading hands, was confronting the whole past of the human race." And now here comes the flight from the enchantment, a summary and also an explanation of what went wrong. The best of the writing is reserved for Africa, where the Lessing genius for invocation of mood and place bounces off the page. But even here the anti-ideological ideology is well to the fore. Where international development is concerned, good intent's sweetest dream breeds a corruption of heart and mind that is recorded with a soi-disant Daily Mail abandon.Frances hears the rants of her understandably disturbed son, fresh from the psychiatrist's chair, subjecting her to "what no human being should ever have to hear - another person's uncensored thoughts". And the characters go in for a lot of such expression. There are echoes here of Iris Murdoch's later novels - an unhappy epoch when a vast array of indistinguishable characters filled the Dame's unedited pages with their hellishly inconsequential philosophising.This is a truly reactionary work in the limited sense that the author still stands at too close a remove to the object of abomination. In the full force of her reaction, she parodies and stereotypes. And there's an odd conflation of decades at work: though many in the 1960s and 1970s were soft on communism, the grand narrative had long since lost its interwar power to console.The Sweetest Dream is offered as a substitute for the third volume of the autobiography Doris Lessing will not write (lest she offend "vulnerable people"). But what emerges is an awkward melange lacking both the realism of great fiction and the truthfulness of history. The nuance that is needed for both is lost in rancour.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Just finished The Sweetest Dream a big, complex novel by Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing. The first half of the book takes place in the 1960's and is centered around a large house in Hampstead owned by prim, traditional Julia but shared by her earth-mother ex-daughter-in-law, Frances,her two grandsons and several young people who need a home for various reasons. The interactions of the people in the house plus their individual personalities and challenges kept me turning pages. The second half jumps forward several years and takes place mostly in Africa where one of the residents of the house has become a doctor in a small village. The halves of the book are separate enough that they seem more like a book and its sequel than one book, but they are both interesting stories. My only real problem with the book is that the characters from the first half of the book run into each other in the second half in ways and places that seem very contrived. It is a compelling book and worth reading.
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