16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2003
As a woman growing older myself, I read this book to understand better the feelings and thoughts a woman might experience being in love at a later stage in life. To this end, I was not disappointed. Doris Lessing explores the meaning of love, not just infatuation, but also the loves of friendship, marital love and brotherly love and the their incumbent duties, as well as the (ab)use of love for personal gain or entertainment. It may be true, as some reviewers suggest, that people who have been untouched by love may not appreciate this book as much as those who have, but I think anyone interested in the meaning of love in all its aspects and across generations can get a lot out of reading this book. The main criticism I have is that while the story itself is about the staging of a play, I found the characters in the book and the aspects of love they portray rather over-staged, too. It is as if no character has been wasted in an attempt to explore the meaning of love, and this is a bit tiresome at times. On the other hand, this may be the point - that all people are in some ways generating or responding to the love or lack of love around them. One book I would recommend to readers of Love Again is Love Letters (an anthology) by Antonia Fraser.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2002
"Love, Again" is one of Doris Lessing's "later" novels and it focuses on an older protagonist caught in the snares of romantic love. Sarah Durham is sixty-five and describes herself as not having been in love in decades. All that changes when she, the widow of a founding member of "The Green Bird," a successful London theatre company, decides to stage an avant-garde operatic play concerning the enigmatic Julie Vairon. Vairon lived most of her life in an isolated French village, writing music and painting and was virtually unknown until her "discovery" in the 1970s.
It is Julie Vairon's tortured love life that really interests Sarah, however, even more than does her strange and eerie music. Vairon was romantically involved with two Frenchmen, yet neither romance had a happy ending. Vairon did, however, find love at last, or what passed for love, only to have everything end both mysteriously and tragically.
As Sarah and her company of actors at "The Green Bird" begin work on their rendition of the life of Julie Vairon, Julie's own eroticism seems to be working its magic on the cast. Everyone seems to be falling in love with everyone else...and some of the romances are of the most improbable imaginable.
Although someone not familiar with Doris Lessing's writing may think the above premise sounds more than a little silly, let me assure you that it is not. You won't find any lovesick fools running around in this book. Rather than reaching the heights of ecstasy, the lovers in "Love, Again" are anguished souls who become involved in relationships that don't have even a ghost of a chance of working. And Lessing, a superlative writer, makes us feel the grief and sense of loss experienced by her characters. We don't laugh at them; we grieve with them.
Stylistically, "Love, Again" is a different sort of Doris Lessing novel. It is intricate, very internal and reflective. It is also something of a double narrative, a literary device that I, personally, like very much. Lessing very cleverly and skillfully lets the melancholy and tragic ghost of Julie Vairon haunts the love lives of her present-day characters. And the life of Julie Vairon is the perfect background on which to tell the story of Sarah and company.
As much as this book concentrates on love, however, love is not its central theme. The book revolves around Sarah Durham and how she copes with her own sexuality and attractiveness in light of the inevitability of growing older. This is subject matter that Lessing has delved into before: in "The Summer Before the Dark" Kate Brown was a woman attempting to deal with the first pangs of growing older and lost youth. Sarah, however, is older and seemingly beyond the changes that sent Kate into a literal panic, but she does have problems of her own to deal with.
Sarah's problems are the most problematic area of "Love, Again." While I can readily accept the idea of one "thirtysomething" man falling madly in love with Sarah, the idea of three doing the very same thing is a little too much...no matter how great Sarah looks or how charming she is. Lessing, however, is such a good writer that she can make us suspend our disbelief and buy into the proposition that three gorgeous and very sought-after men are madly pursuing Sarah. It may sound a bit preposterous in this review, but I'm not Doris Lessing. In her hands, it comes off just fine.
As for the ending, I'm not going to give it away, but let's just say that Lessing is too melancholy to buy into the happily-ever-after scenario and she doesn't write fairy tales. The ending is satisfying and fits the book perfectly.
"Love, Again," is more than enough to satisfy anyone who is looking for an engrossing story with characters to really care about and believe in. I wish I could find more books like this one.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Love, Again is a slow-moving and deeply nuanced story about an older woman faced with a bevy of suitors as she and her team put on a new production one summer in England and France. The protagonist of the play is a woman who lived a century before, who was driven to the brink of madness by pain from her lovers. This serves as an obvious parable to Sarah, in the current day, slowly losing her mind, as new and old lovers come and go in her life, and bring with them countless complications. She also suffers deep stress from recent family troubles, and is in a general state of upheaval in her life. Lessing's writing is quite strong here, direct and typically analytical and tightly edited. The story itself, while thin and perhaps long-winded, nevertheless sheds a new light on a topic that is not often discussed in world literature. Still, though, I fear that only hardcore Lessing fans would appreciate it for what it is, as I cannot find someone unfamiliar with her style to find it to be as absorbing an experience as those in love with her work. A mature book for discerning readers.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2002
Lessing uses the device of a theater play to provide both the bewitching and the kaleidoscopic variety necessary to a thorough examination of love and its inevitable attendant, pain. Just as the characters of another, much older, play about bewitchment and love reveal themselves more fully only when in the throes of love's terrible enchantment, so here are the various characters anatomized in their different loves. And, Lessing seems to say, each love harks back to childhood, to those terrible (and thankfully forgotten) anguishes that marked us deeply and ineluctably.
For all the weight of its subject matter, this is a delicate book. The conclusions Lessing has drawn are painted for us vividly yet not crudely; nor does she retreat behind a veil of sophistication or good-humour. Instead she takes us on a descent into hell. It is debatable whether anyone who has not experienced something of the sort will be able to resonate with the descriptions Lessing provides. As she herself writes, it is just "words on paper" unless you already know, have already sensed the desolation that lies just behind the outer layers of many people's lives.
Her portraits are generally sympathetic, for all that this is an intensely personal book. Much to be recommended, but not a comfortable read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2012
--and it usually hardly matters much at all what I think of a book. I mean, who am I to judge? But when it comes to an author like Doris Lessing, my opinion shrinks to an irrelevance so rapidly it opens up the intellectual equivalent of a black hole. What presumption! The woman has won a Nobel Prize for Literature for crissakes!
So let me confine my remarks to a few general and not-so-general observations.
This novel was written by an old woman about an old woman in a traditional (read: old) style. To complain that the book is slow, plodding, even boring, especially by contemporary standards of style and taste is more than a little unfair. Lessing is a throwback to a different literary sensibility than reigns today. "Love, Again" unfolds at a leisurely pace, it reads more like a 19th century novel than one written in the 20th century, never mind the 21st. It's a novel you have to approach with a significant amount of patience. It's not going to come leaping out of the gate like a blur of greyhounds.
To be honest, I very nearly didn't have the patience for it myself. I hung with it, though, and was greatly rewarded for my patience. Not only does the novel pull you in but it gathers a quiet but relentless momentum that eventually makes it almost impossible to put down until it's subtly devastating finale.
Lessing is a careful crafter of language. Like Proust, whom she references in the novel, Lessing attempts to limn the psychological subtleties of love in all its complexity with a laser-like precision. What goes on inside her characters' heads is at least (and, in fact, infinitely more important) than what goes on outside of them.
The focal point of "Love, Again" is Sarah's Durham. She's a theater-director/writer whose latest project, a play about a tragic 19th century proto-feminist heroine, brings her into the orbit of several men, each of whom exerts a different form of attraction and fascination over Sarah.
Some reviewers have criticized "Love, Again" as unrealistic. They just can't accommodate the notion that a woman over sixty can be as erotically appealing as Sarah is portrayed, especially when it comes to one of her paramours, a man young enough to be her grandson.
But note: Lessing makes no bones about it that the attraction Sarah has for these younger men is as much maternal as it is sexual. These younger men see her as mature, even though she looks considerably younger than her age, but it is precisely her maturity that these damaged, incomplete men desire.
What's more, as a main character, Lessing needs Sarah to be both old and desirable as a fictional device, if not an entirely realistic character, to conduct the examination of love and lust in the twilight of life that is the entire point of this novel. Fear not, though. There is no geriatric sex in "Love, Again." Although Sarah wants it, somehow, for various reasons, it doesn't happen.
But whether she does the deed or not isn't the point. What really unsettles is that Sarah Durham thought that the mad passions of love and desire were something she'd long put behind her, along with her vanished youth. She'd achieved what she thought was a cool philosophical detachment when it came to matters of the heart. So Sarah couldn't be more shocked to find the embers still alive under the ashes. Unexpectedly, she is warmed and enlivened by the promise of her reawakened sensuality. Soon, however, she is burning in the forgotten agonies of frustration and jealousy. Finally, she is abandoned grief-stricken in the cold ruins of love lost forever.
The question for Sarah is this: Is it better to have loved, lost and been done once-and-for-all with it--or is it better to still be in the game right to the end, even with the odds ever-increasingly stacked against you?
That's the question Sarah asks herself throughout "Love, Again." It's a question that, artfully, Lessing never definitively answers, although she lays out with beautiful clarity all the arguments pro and con.
I came to like this book a great deal. Will you like it? Who knows?
The real question is whether it's a book worth reading or not and there is only one correct answer: You bet.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2010
I won't repeat the plot of the book as it's mentioned in several other reviews. I enjoyed the first third of this book a great deal, where the protagonist, Sarah, explores the nature of the play's heroine, Julie, and Stephen's passion for Julie. I thought Sarah would be drawn to Stephen and that the book would be about Sarah discovering her passion and perhaps drawing Stephen towards a relationship with her, a living woman not a great deal older than he. Of course, the author is not obliged to meet my expectations, but when the novel took a completely different turn, having her fall in love with two much younger men, and they in turn showing a sexual interest in her, a sixty-five year old woman - my reaction was to completely lose interest in the book. One professional critic suggests that some negative reviewers are pulling away from the strong emotions evoked by the book. In my case, this is true - the strong emotion being embarrassment, for the protagonist and the author. The protagonist looks "twenty years younger than her age." Well, I'm a 59 year old woman, and I've never met a 65 year old woman who could be taken for 45. Furthermore, most women I have known think that men even just a few years younger would not be attracted to them, yet Sarah apparently experiences none of these doubts. Years ago, I met a woman who was deluded enough at the age of 62 to think a man in his twenties was attracted to her. He wasn't. So, is the author writing a novel about the nature of an older woman's passion for a young man in a universe where such a passion might be returned? And returned not by one much younger man, but by two? If so, it's not a universe I inhabit. And it seems as silly as those books about young heroines who can deck a 350 pound man with their incredibly well-honed martial arts skills. It would be lovely if it were true. But those are books meant for younger readers. Because I couldn't believe in it, I was unable to enter the author's world. And unfortunately, I found myself wondering is this was the fantasy world of the author, who was the same age as her protagonist when the book was written. In which case, it's rather self-indulgent.
on August 8, 2015
I listened to Eleanor Bron reading the novel on cassette and I found it tedious when I first started listening to the cassettes because i had to turn the cassette to get to the next number and Eleanor Bron does not have the sort of voice which gripped my attention . The plot is a bit messy because Doris Lessing tries to suggest that a group of English theatrical company actors would be interested in doing a play about the life of a female reclusive French musical composer . I developed the feeling that Lessing was the one who was very interested in the Pre-War French intellectual scene and the novel was her way of expressing her strong interest in that period and even though the French character she creates is fictitious she uses the novel as her vehicle to bring the topic to her readers attention. The novel then focuses on thev personalities of the members of the theatrical company and the desire of the narrator to get the play about the French musician put on the English stage and her relationships with the members of the cast both male and female.and the way that people in the theatre need a play to get them out on the stage in front of an audience and play parts from a script and yet they have their own circle of friends whom they meet up at weekends and mixed in the strands of their lives is whether ultimately the production will be successful and that will come about by the members of the company working well together. Though wartime is not mentioned directly Lessing was of that generation which was conscious that people from different backgrounds had to work successfully together together and when members of the theatrical cast drop out a replacement has to be found. and if a lover drops out and the narrator tries to develop a new relationship with the new member .Lessing has a way of writing about physical characteristics and then shifting to personal impression from reported conversation .Lessing packs in so much into a paragraph and action is very slow and the emphasis is on emotion and the effect is of a narrator who has a deep knowledge of French poetry creating quick emotional responses with the leading male members of the theatrical company and yet the subject of the play does not resonate with these males only insofar as they need a play to give them an audience.Lessing does not
have an immediate appeal to an English reader of today because circumstances have changed
in many ways but Lessing does convey the theatrical life and provides an explanation as to why the marriages of those in the theatre break up soon after a theatrical production ends.
they have their own
on March 6, 2011
Doris Lessing's 1997 novel Love Again is the story of 65-year-old Englishwoman Sarah Durham's encounters with love--being loved, desiring love, falling in love, being the object of desire--as she produces a musical/play--an entertainment--about a mulatto woman named Julie Vairon who, her time at the other end of the same century, was the subject and object of impossible love. A beautiful woman who attracts the desire and love of Frenchmen whose nobility or social status out-caste her and render her an outcaste, she nevertheless manages to live on her own terms--that is, with the support of the men who have loved her. Julie Vairon occupies a place apart in a forest near a river full of the magic and beauty of the natural world. She realizes the magic of her own womanly ways and creates the poetry and music that will haunt Sarah Durham and the men and women who will come together almost a century later to create a tone poem of her life on stage in her village in France and, less successfully, in England.
Julie has magic that swirls round the international cast who perform her life story and becomes the vehicle by which Sarah Durham travels deep into the truth of love and desire and need--the selfishness and emptiness and hurt that drive us toward and away from each other.
Love and our grasp of it are fleeting things. In those rare moments we break through our isolate to embrace another in those fleeting moments, there is magic.
The thing is to know it.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 1999
I write this because of one particular passage that appears near the end. Sarah, the protagonist, has had recurring nightmares in which she is holding her doll and stabbing it with a knife. The doll is bleeding. In this episode, she sees an incident which explains her nightmares. Lessing doesn't say it does, and Sarah doesn't say it does, but the reader knows it because he/she has been shown it. The book is a masterpiece and a heartbreaking scene tops it off. Don't know how she does it.
on March 15, 1997
Can a 65 year old have a great love life? Can a writer explore that love life using all her experiences and wisdom? Can she engage a reader time and again eliciting an "oh, yes" response? Yes, Yes, Yes. Lessing has done it again, and this one paints falling in love with broad brush strokes. I marked 40 passages to save! From the first descriptions of Sarah in a room of her own, this novel colors the reader with a wash of truths, and hues that will remain. A must read