"The Memoirs of a Survivor"
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 1st November 2011Doris Lessing's dystopian fantasy takes place in a future Britain where some unmentioned event has sown the seeds for the gradual disintegration of society, out of which new more primitive orders seem to be arising observed by the unnamed narrator along with a young girl called Emily who has been left in her care. From their window they watch gangs of youths periodically gather and then move off; other gangs take over disused houses, trying to build something new, while untameable feral children wander at will. She fears for Emily, who moves between the "old order" represented by the narrator and her flat, and the new world that is taking shape outside, while at the same time experiencing visions of another ethereal world within the walls of the building, and which ultimately seems to provide an escape of some sort.
Lessing’s vision of the future breakdown is bleak, but also somehow drab and dreary - what I always think of as "1970s end-of-the-world". However while it reminded me of many ways of JG Ballard’s various dystopias, and the breakdown of society depicted in Nigel Kneale’s "Quatermass" (which superficially has a similar theme of society dividing into young and old), the overwhelming sense is not so much apocalyptic as more of a sense of protracted winding-down. I found it a strangely depressing novel, and its description of social decay perhaps have parallels with our own times: ultimately it leaves the most disturbing idea of all, that the end of the world might already have begun and we just haven't realised it yet.