It was in the month of May that I had set off for my Old man’s farm in Trans Nzoia County. This decision was inspired by several reasons; firstly, to let off some steam that had gathered during preparations for meeting my fiancés larger family and secondly, to help out in the weeding of maize. I had just completed Moby Dick and needed to embark on another novel. Hence, I popped into Moi University bookshop in Eldoret, and slowly made my way to the literature aisle. Therein, I allowed my gaze to rest upon African literature which I had given a wide berth but now decided it was high time we became re-acquainted. The grass is singing by Doris Lessing held a peculiar attraction for me. I could not immediately figure out why. However, after reading its synopsis, I recalled an interview on BBC’s Book club in which Ms Lessing was the guest. She commented on various issues about Zimbabwe where she spent her childhood in one of the large farms. Chief among these was inter-racial relationships which were frowned upon by the whites who perceived themselves superior to the black natives. It was against this backdrop that the story of the Turners and their houseboy is told-and oh, how marvellously so that it earned Ms Lessing the 2007 Nobel Prize for literature.
Doris borrows the title of her novel from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. This is aptly used in the novel to almost describe Mr Turner’s farm which brought him little revenue. This is sometimes attributed to the vagaries of weather but largely to Mr Turner’s ineptitude in farm management, especially financially. He was that kind of a farmer who went from one venture to another in the hope of making a quick kill-almost similar to Kenyan small scale farmers who recently ventured into quail farming without giving much thought to the market dynamics of supply and demand. But I digress.
The story begins with the murder of Mrs Mary Turner. Her houseboy is arrested and confesses to the crime. Thereafter, Doris takes the reader back into the world of Mary’s childhood, her life as an independent, fun-loving, financially stable city girl before the idea of marriage was unpleasantly lodged in her head, and how she ended up with Dick Turner, a struggling farmer who abhorred the city. Through it all, we see the code of conduct that governed relationships between whites and whites, whites and blacks, the disillusionment that comes with a marriage of convenience and the fatal attraction of Mary towards Moses.
Ms Lessing watches over Mary as Thomas Hardy watched over Tess of D’Urbervilles -tenderly. She takes the reader into Mary’s highs and lows and the emotions that come along with them. She allows the reader to pity, love and even hate Mary but not enough to want her dead. Nonetheless, this is not the case; the character that is introduced in the beginning of a story is no more in the end.
The grass is singing is one treasure I will go back to time and time again not only for a story well told but for its literary finesse.
NB: Next Book review will be Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
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