This book grows on you. While I was reading it, it disturbed me. It has a strong emotional impact. What disturbed me was that the story is told. There is an omniscient narrator who explains everything, what happens and why each character makes the choices they make. We are told how they feel and why they do particular things. How as a reader do you react if you think other reasons could be the cause of a particular choice? I wasn’t quite sure if I believed what I was being told, so rather than accepting the givens, I questioned everything, and ultimately I became annoyed.
The book is about life on the veld in what is today Zimbabwe. It is about a couple, farmers, white colonials, without children, owners of a very small poorly run farm. The husband cannot seem to make a go of it and tries one fanciful idea after another, all to fail. The wife, she is a special case too. She carries lots of baggage on her back. Experiences of her own childhood weigh her down and she only marries at thirtyish because she reasons she simply has to. She didn’t want to, she had to……she was getting too old and realized all were whispering about her. She isn’t comfortable with men, not only is she instable, but she could be classified as being mentally ill. She cannot deal with sexual attraction; it throws her completely off kilter!
This book is about how white colonials look at native Africans. At least that is what we are told. There is a murder. We are told at the start that the wife is killed by the native house slave. The question is why, how did this come about. This is the central theme.
How well does this couple represent colonial whites in Africa? That is what concerned me! I never felt that this was an issue solely of utter disdain and hatred for the natives, but rather a couple that was emotionally unbalanced. How can these two be used as a mirror of how colonials viewed the African natives?!
What I cannot deny is that I felt and breathed the atmosphere of the veld. The environment, the weather, the shabbiness, the heat, the storms weigh on you as you read this book and impose a sense of doom and hopelessness. This sense of the environment is impressive. I recognized it from other books I have read about Zimbabwe - Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, both by Alexandra Fulle. I kept thinking I have been in places like this, albeit only in books. I definitely prefer the writing of Alexandra Fuller though. I would recommend that if you are interested in the southern African milieu to start with “Dogs” instead. There is humor in that. It is more rounded, and it offers a more realistic and balanced view of colonials; they cannot, should not, all be depicted as Doris Lessing does. The Grass is Singing is a novel, while the other two mentioned are autobiographical. I personally think Doris Lessing’s book concerns more the thoughts of a woman with emotional problems, but the atmosphere of the time and place is impressive.