The New Yorker:

In her novel “The Sweetest Dream,” Doris Lessing—who was born a hundred and two years ago this week—renders the political hypocrisies and timeless wisdoms of the sixties.  

By Louis Menand 

February 10, 2002

If you’re writing a novel about the nineteen-sixties, then you’re writing a historical novel, for the nineteen-sixties were a long time ago, and everyone knows how things turned out. And if you're writing a historical novel then you are probably at least as interested in what doesn’t change as in what does. In the dazzle of the moment—any moment—people are likely to seem pure reflexes of current conditions. The guy on the cell phone with the flag pin in his lapel has “Bush II” written all over him. Back in the days of Bush I, he was probably a slob who bummed rides and wore a Megadeth T-shirt, unrecognizable even to his present self. From a novelist’s point of view, though, the flag pin and the T-shirt can seem surface events, exterior decoration on an unvarying internal structure. That inside space used to be called “human nature,” a term with regrettable universalist implications. Now we call it “hardwiring,” and feel much better about ourselves. But it is basically the same thing: the residue of personality that no change can corrode.

Doris Lessing’s “The Sweetest Dream” (HarperCollins; $26.95), which is her twenty-fourth novel and something like her fiftieth book, is about the nineteen-sixties and their aftermath. About two-thirds of the story takes place in London, in a big house inhabited by an extended family and its hangers-on; the rest takes place in Africa, in a Zimbabwe-like nation called Zimlia. It is a fairly cold book.

An Author’s Note offers the following advice, or, possibly, warning: “I am not writing volume three of my autobiography”—the first two volumes, “Under My Skin” and “Walking in the Shade,” took Lessing up to 1962—“because of possible hurt to vulnerable people. Which does not mean I have novelised autobiography. . . . I hope I have managed to recapture the spirit of, particularly, the Sixties, that contradictory time which, looking back and comparing it with what came later, seems surprisingly innocent.” This is so evenly balanced between invitation and rebuff that no doubt the wise response is to ignore it. What Lessing means to say, apparently, is: This is not my story, but these are my sixties.

Go to link