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The Sweetest Dream: A Novel Hardcover – February 5, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The motivating power of dream and the political price of illusions are the subject of Doris Lessing's extended family saga, The Sweetest Dream. While Frances Lennox, uncomplaining and unsentimental about her roles as a 1960s earth mother for a string of "screwed up" post-war children, serves up endless nurturing at the crowded kitchen table of a large North London house, her ex- husband pursues revolution on all-expenses-paid trips and conferences. Occasionally he drops by for free meals or to dump one of the children, or wives, of another failed marriage on Frances's doorstep. Lessing is able to turn a dispassionate eye on the economics of free love, in which women usually pay.

From swinging-'60s London to liberated sub-Saharan Africa, the author depicts the human faces of a broad canvas of issues in this polemical piece. The novel ranges from anorexia to AIDS to casting a questioning eye at the morality of the travelers on the World Bank gravy train. Moving from London to the tragic landscape of post-independence "Zimlia" (a thinly veiled Zimbabwe), Lessing documents the social movement and lost dreams of a post-war generation, for whom "it is always The Dream that counts." --Rachel Holmes, Amazon.co.uk

From Publishers Weekly

In lieu of writing volume three of her autobiography ("because of possible hurt to vulnerable people"), the grand dame of English letters delves into the 1960s and beyond, where she left off in her second volume of memoirs, Walking in the Shade. The result is a shimmering, solidly wrought, deeply felt portrait of a divorced "earth" mother and her passel of teenage live-ins. Frances Lennox and her two adolescent sons, Andrew and Colin, and their motley friends have taken over the bottom floors of a rambling house in Hampstead, London. The house is owned by Frances's well-heeled German-born ex-mother-in-law, Julia, who tolerates Frances's slovenly presence out of guilt for past neglect and a shared aversion for Julia's son, Johnny Lennox, deadbeat dad and flamboyant, unregenerate Communist. Frances's first love is the theater, but she must support "the kids," and so she works as a journalist for a left-wing newspaper. Over the roiling years that begin with news of President Kennedy's assassination, a mutable assortment of young habituEs gather around Frances's kitchen table, and Comrade Johnny makes cameo appearances, ever espousing Marxist propaganda to the rapt young dropouts. Johnny is a brilliantly galling character, who pushes both Julia and Frances to the brink of despair (and true affection for each other). Lessing clearly relishes the recalcitrant '60s, yet she follows her characters through the women's movement of the '70s and a lengthy final digression in '90s Africa. Lessing's sage, level gaze is everywhere brought to bear, though she occasionally falls into clucking, I-told-you-so hindsight, especially on the subject of the failed Communist dream. While the last section lacks the intimate presence of long-suffering Frances, the novel is weightily molded by Lessing's rich life experience and comes to a momentous conclusion. (Feb. 10)Forecast: A must for Lessing fans, this book carries echoes of much of her previous work, both novels and memoirs. New readers may well be attracted by her brisk, discerning view of the '60s and '70s.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (February 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066213347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066213347
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,245,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

There was not one likable character.
Connie Perrine
The end result is a mess, a beautiful one that is written in earnest with genuine compassion at its center, but a mess nonetheless.
scott89119
A good plot diluted with far too many sub-plots, some of which were rather contorted.
Paula C. Aird

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Doris Lessings's 24th novel, "The Sweetest Dream" concerns itself with people from whom we never seem to find escape, even if we want to...family members.
This is a book that many people may not like. It's fairly long, not divided into chapters and, for the most part, lacks a plot. Rather than plot, Lessing chooses to concentrate of the needs of family members instead...immediate family members and extended family members. This is a book filled with "issues" and each character seems to have his or her opinion on each and every one of them. If the book seems too long, consider this: the pages are filled with so much dialogue during the discussion of these "issues" that they (the pages) simply fly by. It really doesn't take long to read "The Sweetest Dream."
I wouldn't say that this book is "about" anyone in particular, although its heart and soul is Frances Lennox a British actress and writer, who, at a very young age, made the mistake of marrying Johnny, a devout communist. Although she attempted to correct that mistake, she seems to only become mired even more deeply in Johnny's troubled life and times.
Frances and her two teenaged boys are at home much of the time while Johnny cavorts in various parts of the world. He only seems to light long enough to deposit yet another person on Frances' doorstep for her to take care of. (The latest being Johnny's current wife.) Frances finally finds a little peace and solace in the home of Johnny's widowed mother, Julia. This is a house filled with misfits: Frances' and Johnny's sons' friends and Sylvia, the troubled, anorxic daughter of Johnny's current wife. Although Frances dreams of the theatre, the need for cash seems to trap her in the world of journalism instead.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Frequent Reader on April 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While there are many critiques of the radical left written by conservatives (often as dogmatic and out of touch with reality as their targets), this is a critique from a liberal/moderate left viewpoint that should touch a chord to people who are concerned about the injustices in the world while knowing that there are no simple solutions. The title of the book refers to the dream world that will come after the "glorious revolution."
This book is in the form of a narrative about a group of people from the sixties until our time. The plot is rather weak and several of the characters are extreme stereotypes but they and the story serve as a vehicle to chronicle the social evolutions of the last 40 years and it is there where Lessing is at her best giving wonderful snapshots of the times while providing her sharp social commentary. The story takes place in London and a fictional African country that seems to stand for Zimbabwe. There are strong sketches of the suffering of the African people, emphasizing the role of the local corrupt despots in contributing to their misery. Lessing does not use the term, but I have heard Africans describing their new elite as the "black British". Her descriptions do justice to the term. She provides devastating pictures of the radical left, both of the old time Communists and of the "new" left. Comrade Johnny is as irresponsible a husband and father as one can possibly imagine and at the same time an unrepentant Stalinist who completely disregards reality. His dogmatism may seem unreal but I had the misfortune of knowing such people when I was growing up (outside the U.S.) and they are indeed as dogmatic as Lessing describes them (and often almost as irresponsible as comrade Johnny). The main sympathetic characters are three women, unselfish in the extreme.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on July 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful novel about an extended, 60s-style household: for one reason or another - damaged families, poverty, even laziness - people congregate to heal and party. There are two strong women at the center of it: a German immigrant and her daughter-in-law, whom the former's do-nothing, Marxist son abandoned with two young grandchildren. The reader follows all of their fates over a period of about 40 years, from war-torn London to a fictional developing country near S Africa. It is vivid and moves very swiftly.

The characters are extremely well developed and exist in a kind of static balance even as they change and grow: there is always at least one angry and presumptuous taker, one giving and loving soul who is saving someone, one person healing and ready to move into a do-gooder role themselves. Etc. When one leaves the nest, another seems to take her place in rapid succession, and most of them tend to return as if to their own families. The balance of personalities is well thought out and realistic.

What distinguishes this novel from those that are similar is that, rather than romanticizing the characters in some two-dimensional way, Lessing is simply relentless in showing their shortcomings and limitations. Fate does not deal kindly with any of the characters, though some (not necessarily the nice ones) do better than others; the evil ones rarely get theirs, though they lead rather sad lives, and the good ones must struggle very hard just to tread water.

Lessing is also very hard on all the ideologies that are floating through the plot: she goes after communists, hippies, feminists, the internationalist development elite, journalists, and even Third World leaders.
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