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Briefing for a Descent Into Hell: A Psychological Thriller (Vintage International) Paperback – July 14, 2009
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Towards the end of the book he seems to recover some of his memory, or some facet of it, and he tells a tremendously affecting story of being airlifted into some mountains where he joins a group of young Yugoslav soldiers in WWII. Though by now, they know he never went to Yugoslavia during the war. He is a lecturer of historiography, it appears, and he had an unexceptional, though particularly hard war in France. Though it is all fantasy, his sojourn with the young soldiers is the best part of the book, albeit all too short.
While all of the writing has power and often beauty, I felt strangely detached. I did not connect with much of the journeying, it seemed esoteric and for effect only. I have read everything I've come across by Doris Lessing, but this leapt out of my cogniscence so often and so outlandishly that I wanted to give up and though I read on doggedly to the end, I couldn't find much of a reward for my persistence.
I do recommend this book but for those interested in representations of mental illness, R. D. Laing's work, and inner-space fiction, rather than those looking merely for a pleasureable read.
Truth is stranger than fiction, and no one knows better than Doris Lessing. I only hope she still has it in her to write a sequel to this book -- "Ascent From Hell" might be a good title -- in which the good Professor Watkins actually does remember all that he needs to remember, and then holds on tight like that Honeysuckle tendril on his garden wall. But she will never write that book. It is up to each of us who are soul seekers to write it ourselves...in our own lives.