Review: Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing

Review: Alfred & Emily by Doris Lessing
A beautiful reflection on how we embroider and unpick our parents' lives, says Isobel Montgomery

Doris Lessing's half-fiction, half-memoir is a clever example of just how sharply counterfactual history can illuminate life's wrong turns and paths not taken. What if her parents had met but never married? That Lessing would not exist is not her point here, though it is one that the reader cannot avoid. Rather, she allows her father, Alfred, to move contentedly through an eternal Edwardian summer of cricket and gentle English farming; no war to break his health, no rash emigration to Rhodesia with a disappointed wife. For her mother, Emily, nursing and a loveless marriage provide opportunity and means to become a philanthropic educationalist with money to spare for elegant clothes. Yet there is no gain without loss: an England without the first world war and with all its Edwardian hierarchies intact is still troubled, and contentment is hard won for both Alfred and Emily. Lessing's hybrid is a beautiful, wise reflection on how we simultaneously embroider and unpick our parents' lives in an effort to understand ourselves.

Contributor

Isobel Montgomery

The GuardianTramp

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