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The Cleft: A Novel Hardcover – July 31, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (July 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060834862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060834869
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,293,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eminent novelist Lessing offers an alternative origin story for the human race, indirectly recalling the alternate world speculations of her Canopus in Argos SF novels. Positing that the primal human stock was female rather than male, Lessing invents a cult of ancient women called the Clefts, a name derived, in part, from that essential part of female anatomy. The story of the Clefts is bookended by the journal of a Roman historian, who interprets ancient documents stating that females were originally impregnated by a fertilizing wind or a wave, to give birth to female children. But one day a deformed baby is born, with a lumpy swelling never seen before. The first rape and the first murder follow soon enough, as do the first instances of consensual intercourse and the babies—the first of a new race, with a nature derived from both sexes—that are the result. Humor, which may or may not be intentional, is introduced into a generally lethargic text when women and men discover they can't live with or without each other, and the battle of the sexes commences. The novel has elements of a feminist tract, but the story it tells doesn't present a significant challenge to that of Adam and Eve. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Outspoken, prolific, and influential, Lessing has cycled through an array of literary genres in her quest to tell stories that protest prejudice, fathom consciousness, and chart the entrenched battle between the sexes. In her newest audacious, ludicrously titled novel––yes, The Cleft does refer to the aspect of the female anatomy you suspect it might––Lessing employs a classic framing device. During Nero's rule, a Roman senator with a much younger and more sexually adventurous wife is working through "a mass of material accumulated over ages," pertaining to a prehistoric all-woman tribe. The Clefts loll about in the surf and are mysteriously impregnated by the sea, until nature plays one of its tricks, and they suddenly give birth to what they call Monsters, but which we recognize as males. After the females' attempts to kill off the baby boys fail, thanks to the intervention of giant eagles, the two adversarial groups gradually discover that they need each other to reproduce, and that just as their bodies are different yet complementary, so, too, are their temperaments. As the good Roman chronicles, to the best of his ability, the way these early, contentious humans formed families and opened themselves to love, he marvels over the processes by which memories morph into myth, and history is assembled. As for Lessing, she overcomes initial narrative awkwardness to forge a mordantly entertaining fable rich in incident, discernment, and reflection. Seaman, Donna

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Customer Reviews

The characters are few and shallow, not much development.
Linda Radosevich
I'll admit I'm not very familiar with her works (although I'm working to change that as we speak) and I found the book a little tough going at first.
M. Cloutier
Even people who enjoy reading "bad literature for the sake of its 'bad'-ness" are wasting their time and money.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By BARBARA GERSHENABUM on August 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
At eighty-eight Doris Lessing has not lost her love of provoking, politicizing, turning traditional beliefs upside down, taking on any topic that she finds interesting and her wonderful sense of humor. THE CLEFT, the newest novel is her ouvre is a very different, though not particularly difficult or long novel, whose premise is that women came first and the creation of men was an afterthought. Needless to say some readers will be deeply offended by this notion and the way Lessing portrays the early inhabitants.
The narrator is a Roman scribe who lives in the time of Nero and has found an ancient set of hidden documents that tell a tale of a world nobody could ever have conceived. He nervously tells the reader who he is and shares bits of his life which humanizes him and adds to his verissimitude.
The story begins ages and ages ago, but time does not exist before and during the copying of the scrolls. He reminds readers that long ago has no real context in trying to date the events that are outlined.
At some time, in some place a community of "sea" women lived on a small beach surrounded by high cliffs and mountains. These creatures had no capacity to think, to be curious, to want to explore, to wonder why about anything. All they knew was to swim, sun themselves on the rocks, eat what the sea provided and give birth at the behest of the moon.
Their only ritual was to climb the rock above them that is called the Cleft because it looks like female genitalia. They push red flowers into the crevice and watch the water that flows through it get red ... then some of them get pregnant. They are called 'Shes' and have always given birth to "babes" who are shes.
Inevitably, one day a boy is born.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
When an ageing Roman senator agrees to undertake writing a history of the first recorded society, he does so knowing that many questions will remain unanswered, vast gaps in an ancient tale of the beginning of life. Though first recorded via oral tradition, the senator also has fragments of written documents from which he tentatively composes the story of the Cleft. A society composed entirely of women- babies are born through the cycles of the moon- this sedentary group lives quietly in caves above the sea, performing ritual sacrifices, content to remain in the shelters they have always known. With the Old Shes (of indeterminate age) as titular guides, the existence of the women is uneventful until the birth of a male, immediately named a Monster. So remarkably different from the females, with his ugly protuberances, this first Monster is cast out, left on the Killing Rock, where it is expected that the eagles will consume the infant. When more Monsters are born, much to the chagrin of their mothers, the women become curious about their bizarre physical differences, alternately toying with, torturing, starving and abusing the tiny creatures.

Much later (although time has no sense of measurement) it is learned that the eagles have not feasted upon the small carrion, but have delivered them safely to a nearby valley where others of their kind nurture the babes, eventually building a community of Monsters, later to be known as Squirts. As time passes, curiosity prevails and communication between the species, as well as ignorance, ushers in a phase of uneasy coexistence. Nature, of course, prevails and eventually the males become the necessary tools of procreation, the females forced to deal with the males' intransigence to provide more children and a future for the tribes.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on October 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Doris Lessing has been writing for more than 50 years and has long been considered "the matriarch" of contemporary British literature. Now in her 87th year, she has written THE CLEFT, a very studied and controversial book.

Of it she told an interviewer, "I saw a science magazine which said that the basic human type is feminine and that men came afterward. So I've written a story based on this... I noticed that my typist at the publishing house was shocked by some of the words I used. I can't wait to see what people make of it." She opined upon this notion in another interview, when she said that the work was controversial and "not politically correct. Some people will hate every word."

These comments resound with the confidence and sense of impishness she displayed when the diary of a good neighbor and IF THE OLD COULD, each by Jane Somers, was published. This event came about as the result of a bet wherein she wanted to prove that an unknown writer does not get the same attention as one who is established. When those books barely sold, they were combined into a paperback titled THE DIARIES OF JANE SOMERS by Doris Lessing and it flew off the shelves.

Lessing drastically changed direction when she wrote a science fiction series that resulted in her removal from the list of possible Nobel Prize winners. If she had not been so punished for her courage to explore new fiction forms, then THE CLEFT would have been the one that struck her off the list. Clearly, Lessing has never been afraid to follow her muse wherever it takes her and to write in her own inimitable way about the issues she finds important. As a writer, she has never been cowed.
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