The Good Terrorist – Doris Lessing

This is an old one but I really enjoyed reading Doris Lessing’s novel about a group of leftist revolutionaries living in a London Squat in Thatcher’s Britain. It could just be at first because I perfectly understood their frustration with the politics of their time, but as I read on it quickly became apparent that I had absolutely nothing in common with the ragtag bunch of middle class and upper class English squatters who dreamed of anarchy and revered Lenin and yet tried to get the IRA to help them to subvert the dominant paradigm. When they were laughed at by the IRA and then the Russians it still didn’t dawn on them that their cause was futile.

We are told this story mostly through the eyes of Alice, who is the mother figure of the group. She is in love with Jasper, a love that is happily for her, unrequited. She has a way with people, except for those really close to her, like family. She wheedles the Council until they grant the flat a semi-official status and she works like a trojan to get the place clean so that the police will not bother them. The way that she sees it they are saving a perfectly good flat, that the council scandalously is letting go to waste. The political sensibilities of the core group of squatters are radical enough to ensure that real crisis is not too far off and the story deals with the ideals and hopeless utopian dreams that they harbour. The most important thing about any Doris Lessing book is the psychology, she reads human nature so minutely that there is never a false note. You can believe her people, even if you don’t necessarily like them, in fact in this case you can’t. It’s fairly obvious that Alice is crazy, but Lessing never overdoes this.

I have to admit that I approached it with hesitancy, as I was not sure whether Lessing was going to poke fun at leftist intellectual politics in the eighties, not having read much of her writing before, except for The Cleft,, but she really deals with the whole idea very carefully and subtly and with warmth. I will be reading more of her work.