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on June 26, 1999
i can't quite fathom why this series is not more widely discussed and celebrated, can only be enormously grateful to the bookstore clerk who was so enamored of it she approached me on some instinct as i browsed the woolf section and said, "you have to read lessing's 'children of violence' series"..i read through all five novels and was struck by lessing's extraordinary insight into the mind (and heart) of young women: with martha quest, the literary characterization of the young woman emerged from half-told shadows in full astounding complexity. this alone makes the series significant. add to that lessing's brilliant writing about organizational politics and psychology, landscape, history, etc etc, and this series is truly a masterpiece. read it, pass it on to friends, read it again.
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VINE VOICEon June 30, 2002
We meet Martha Quest as a resentful 15 year old girl, growing up on a farm in Africa. As noted adequately here, this is the first book in her Children of Violence series-- held by many to be Lessings most important body of work (with the exception of _The Golden Notebook_).
I'm one of these Lessing fans from back in the day when _The Golden Notebook_ changed my life, and I haven't read much of her other work. I was impressed by Martha Quest-- it falls in the category of our classic coming-of-age novels, and as such stands well on its own as a novel. Lessing's Martha is at times so frustrating you want to shake her, but I think that's typical for the age of the character portrayed. Martha is all sharp edges-- she can't seem to fit with her parents, the men around her, the people with whom she tries to interact. With the blindness of her age, she's able to acutely feel how hard she has it, without really feeling the struggle of others around her who may have an even more difficult time. By turns infuriating and attractive, it can be painful to read Quest's story precisely because so it's so human as to be disturbingly familiar.
A should-read book.
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VINE VOICEon November 30, 2006
Doris Lessing remains one of my favorite writers. I first fell in love with her work when I read The Golden Notebook in college, as you do. I'm still slowly working my way through her complete novels.

I really enjoyed Martha Quest, the first book in the Children of Violence. But I was deeply moved by A Proper Marriage. Take the bright young things of a Fitzgerald novel, give them sweat, hangovers and physicality and put them in a troubled country on the eve of a World War. If you can imagine that, then you have a little bit of an idea about A Proper Marriage.

There's something so smart and complicated about the way that Lessing develops Martha in this book. Her disaffection with the excesses of the left lead her into a middle class life, even as her sympathies lie elsewhere. Relationships, war, child-bearing and the colour bar are all woven together into a book that somehow manages to bear the weight of the themes while still givng the reader a very human tale.

Lessing is a simply amazing writer. She works with complex ideas and communicates them without simplifying. Her writing is always lovely and human. A Proper Marriage is one of the best examples of her work. I think that it adds richness if you begin with Martha Quest, but the book can stand on its own right.

Recommended both for fans of Lessing's work and people new to her work.
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on August 16, 2000
The greatest purchase I ever made in my life was when I picked up a copy of 'African Stories' for $1.75 at a used bookstore in Hollywood. The 30 short stories in that book represented some of the most ecstatic writing I had read since Nabokov and Stendhal. To this day it remains my favorite book. The first two parts of 'Children of Violence'--'Martha Quest' and 'A Proper Marriage'--are like an expansion of some of those stories and a comprehensive analysis of everything that can possibly happen within and without the psyche of a young girl becoming a woman in Southern Africa. I'm not exaggerating when I say that almost every page of these two books is a revelation. They're works of genius pure and simple. In fact, no psychologist could've dug this far. Read them or suffer a permanent lack.
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on June 1, 2001
In Doris Lessing's second "Children of Violence" series *A Proper Marriage*, we discover that Martha, in marrying Douglas, becomes even more torn in her quest to attain full stature as a woman. Martha, in this story, not only has to reconcile her self to the causes she believes in, to her marriage with Douglas Knowell, and to motherhood, but also to the townspeople with whom she becomes entwined. Another delight of this novel for me is the way Lessing has Martha look at both individual and group dynamics throughout the story, providing seductively keen insight. Lessing's writing promises tension, suspense, and wonder for the engaged reader. *A Proper Marriage* sequels *Martha Quest* in which many of the delights in the first of the series continue on to the second, including the beautiful way Lessing mirrors Martha's interior life with the exotic and varied African natural and elemental landscape. I would recommed reading *Martha Quest* first in order to more fully appreciate *A Proper Marriage.*
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on May 3, 2000
This novel, the second in the Children of Violence series, will be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone who first met Martha Quest in Doris Lessing's first novel of the series of the same name. This is a story about a young woman about to create her own life with her own family and home, but Martha's self-absorbed indecisiveness make for a character who refuses to do what is expected from her by family and community. Yet Martha is always viewed with compassion and loved by her reader even in her darkest moments.
A central theme of the novel, set during World War II, is Martha's determination not become her mother, or any of the domineering society mother figures of colonial South Africa, but as her own baby is born she sees that circle beginning to repeat itself and rebels with all her strength against the fear of a future filled with domesticity and garden parties. Martha's subsequent actions become the proverbial ripples in a pond as she fails to learn that now that she is adult her actions have long lasting consequences. Yet this is not a typical coming of age story.
By the end of the novel, Martha's stakes out her own path after having become involved with a fledging communist party and its colorful comrades who begin to play an increasingly important role in her life to fill the gap she has created by her rejection of the society in which she was raised and the family she has created.
Any fan of Doris Lessing or any student of history will thoroughly enjoy this novel. One of the richest features of this novel is Lessing's brilliance in the development of her characters whose personalities and idiosyncrasies will echo long after the reader has finished the novel. That said, I thoroughly recommend that the reader read Martha Quest before delving into this novel or other in the series. Only by reading the series in order can one truly understand the evolution of Martha's character and life path.
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on December 3, 2001
MARTHA QUEST covers part of the same time period as UNDER MY SKIN, volume one of Lessing's autobiography, girlhood through marriage. I loved the autobiography, so I expected to love the fictional version.
I was already disappointed in Part 1, in which Martha is a teenage girl living on her parents' farm in Southern Africa. I can understand why generations of girls and young women in the grip of resenting the family and place into which they did not choose to be born have loved this book. I, however, am old enough to have put such feelings behind me, but not so old that I don't cringe at being reminded of them. The landscape that was so lovingly described in UNDER MY SKIN here is seen through the eyes of someone who hates it, and wants to be gone. The descriptions do not transcend the dissatisfaction of the character, and I didn't enjoy reading them. I found the endless conflict between Martha and her mother tiresome. I was impatient reading about months of quarrels about the childish clothes her mother forced her to wear, with both parties complaining to Martha's father, trying to get him to take sides. This feud was finally resolved when Martha took money she had been given for Christmas and bought fabric to make her own clothes. I couldn't help comparing this with the much briefer but immeasurably more enjoyable passage in UNDER MY SKIN in which she strides out into the bush with a rifle, shoots some birds, sells them to the butcher in town, and uses the money to buy the fabric. Problem solved, without endless whining.
In Book 2, Martha takes a job and moves into town. I enjoyed the account of her first week of work as secretary at a law firm. I liked her uncertainty about what she was supposed to do, how surprised and disconcerted she was when she realized she had no skills, and the descriptions of office gossip and politics. Pretty soon, though, her social life takes over, and she becomes a girl about town. I have two problems with this. One, she is a very unlikeable character. Vain, passive, mirror-mad, and eerily detached. I remember having the same reaction to THE GRASS IS SINGING, Lessing's first published novel. I couldn't stand any of the 3 characters in it, and didn't enjoy reading it at all. The difference is, I was utterly riveted and couldn't put it down. Which brings me to my second problem. The narrative is painfully analytical. Much of the time I don't care about the situation, I don't want to know what is going to happen, and so I am not willing to put up with such painstaking prose. (Example: "She was just about to telephone Jasmine, when the phone rang for her; but not at all as simply as that statement sounds. First, the instrument on Mrs. Buss's desk gave a shrill and prolonged peal, so that Martha, who had been about to pick it up..." Do you really want to know how that sentence ends?) There are passages like this in later Lessing novels, but the prose is more gracefully contructed, and the situation warrants the analysis. Here, much of the book is written this way.
If you're wondering whether you would like this book, balance this review with the others before deciding. Many people have loved this book. If you've disliked other Lessing books, you won't like this one. I usually at least like, if not love, Lessing's work, and I don't like this one at all.
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on November 18, 1998
Doris Lessing writes an absorbing story of a young, naive woman learning to be accepted for who she is. It's a struggle between resisting what she is expected to be and figuring out what she wants to be. Very good descriptions of mixed emotions in coping with a fascist environment.
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on January 30, 2006
"For the majority of women everything, including the greatest of sorrow, resolves itself into a question of trying on."

This Proust quote opens the third part of Martha Quest, and while its really insulting, it describes Martha to a tee. She doesn't really know who she is so she tries on different personas. I normally can't stand coming-of-age novels (hated Portrait of a Young Man, This Side of Paradise, Look Homeward Angel) but this is a wonderful book. In the background there are issues of race and culture - the arrogance and insensitivity of the colonialists.

Martha can be a frustrating character, but she is fascinating and the readers have the edge because we can see her missteps. Her worst trait, perhaps, is she takes ideas and views for granted. When someone asks her if she agrees with equal rights for the native people, she nonchalantly says "Of Course," and doesn't think of it anymore.

I disagree with the reviewers who say this book can stand on its own. I would be upset if it ended so abruptly and didn't have a sequel (or in this case, four.)
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on September 3, 2002
it's been so long since i read this, i'm ready to read it again! the incredible vulnerability of someone like martha, who has no self through which to really make sense of her emotions or her options in life - is really quite heart rending and astounding... Martha's story really helped me to find compassion and understanding for my own younger self, not to mention other young people in my life... it's darned difficult to manage without much of a self. that is for sure. poor martha. But! even with all that, it's still fun to read, believe it or not!
the whole series is amazing...though not perfect, a really really great, somewhat sudsy read...
hey, when are they going to make this a miniseries anyway?
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