Years ago I made vows I would disregard Nobel Prize in literature and its winners until it was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa. I just couldn't bear it, that that Fidel-loving, loco-going, commie - Gabriel Garcia Marquez had it and my beloved Llosa didn't.
I was very adamant in my indignation, so finally the Swedish Academy gave in and awarded Llosa the Nobel price last year (that is in 2010, in case you are reading it in distant future). Therefore I could now allow myself to read Doris Lessing.
'Five Short Novels' is one of her lesser known works and reads more like a prelude to something bigger that you can glimpse between the pages. There is just so much potential there and Lessing seems to be teasing you by rationing her talent.
'Five Short Novels' were realeased in a new edition in Poland after Lessing won the Nobel Prize in 2007 and that's what I read. My only complaints about the book have nothing to do with Lessing and all to do with the translation. Unfortunately, the new edition was based on the old translation and while it wasn't straight out bad, it was definitely odd. One thing that irked me in particular was the translation of the characters' names into their Polish equivalents. A very annoying habit that was abandonded by translators a long ago. The translator of 'Five Short Novels' seems to have abandonded it partially as some of the names were translated, some were left in their original form and some were left as in the original but spelled according to Polish spelling rules. I could not make any sense of this.
Another bizarre ocurrence was the translator's insistence on using diminutives in the story 'The Other Woman'. I have no clue where she got that idea from, as diminutives as such don't exist in English. I even asked my goodreads friend Alan who has an original version of the book at home to send me some scans, so I can try to figure it out. But there was nothing there to justify the diminutives that were used both in the dialogues and the narrative. As a result we had two grown up people discussing the parents of one of them using the words 'Mummy' and 'Daddy'.
Enough about the translator, back to Lessing. I think the biggest strength of the book is Lessing's amazing emotional intelligence. She focuses on emotional nuances and describes them with such precision that you can do nothing but admire. It doesn't matter whether it is a teenage Native from the Reserve in South Africa going on his big adventure in the city or a young English woman trying to find love in London during the wartime blitz - the emotional portraits are profund and strikingly authentic.
Lessing moves around themes like colonisation, racism, feminism with dexterity but her focus is with people, not with ideas. You don't get the nagging feeling while reading that the author has an agenda and is trying to shove something down your throat. Anyway, Lessing usually brushes off all the claims that she is a feminist writer. And she would most likely laugh at my use of the term 'emotional intelligence' because I suspect such buzz words don't sit well with her.
All in all, I will be adding more of Doris to my never ending to-read list while hoping some serious advancements in medicine are made so I can live up 300 at least and read all those books.