What it is: The Cleft by Doris Lessing is a novel about a Roman man who tells the story about the beginning of humanity, which consists of only women. They live communally and conceive babies through moonlight. Suddenly a baby boy is born, and eventually their society changes to establish, embrace, and struggle with gender roles. The novel examines the roots of violence and misogyny in a fictional society as a parallel to a modern-day context.
What I liked about it: I liked Lessing’s larger themes throughout the novel. The book discusses why we’re so prone to thinking that civilizations before ours are primitive and barbaric. She also plays with male and female and what that actually means in a society where the concepts of sex and gender are completely foreign. The overall premise fascinates me, since creation stories vary so much from culture to culture.
What I didn’t like about it: The narrator felt out-of-place to me. He discusses aspects of his personal life as a sort of comparison to the ancient history he describes, but the reader doesn’t need that. We’re comparing the story to our own modern-day experiences as we go along.
Memorable quote: I have two. First, “We humans would be incapable of cruelty if the ideas were first put into our heads.” Second, “How few we are, how easily we die.”
Overall rating: 3/5 stars.
Challenge satisfied: #2, read a book written by someone when they were over the age of 65 (Lessing was 88 when the book was published).
Additional notes: The first half was significantly better than the second half, in my opinion. I completely lost interest about 50-75 pages from the end, and I think it’s because the deeper themes that I found interesting early on dissolved into the day-to-day struggles of the civilization. The gender issues were still prevalent once males were established in society, but it became less of a conceptual struggle and shifted towards interpersonal conflicts based on their differences.
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