Review- Lessing, “Landlocked”


Doris Lessing, “Landlocked” (1965) – the fourth of Lessing’s “Children of Violence” series, Landlocked takes the story of Martha Quest (based on Lessing herself) to the end of her time in the colonized Rhodesia in which she was raised. The little group of reds, marooned in a provincial capital, among whom Martha tried to find meaning and companionship loses what little traction it had with the masses once WWII ends and Cold War anticommunist paranoia — racialized, naturally, in this white settler colony — takes hold. Quest continues trying to do her bit from the movement, even as her German Stalinist husband takes up open philandering (and in very progressive, “civilized” fashion, he encourages her to find her own boyfriend while they await his citizenship papers, which in turn will allow a divorce) and the little red scene in their town continues to split between stalinists, trotskyites, zionists, etc. In some of those painful scenes Lessing does so well, all of them try to reach out to the great prize, the black population, all painfully patronizing to varying degrees and completely unsuccessful. The whites are growing increasingly paranoid, the blacks are going to go their own way without much input from middle class white leftists, and no one’s fantasies or half-measures will cut it anymore. People also start to die at an alarming rate- some of sickness, some by violence, like the Greek RAF men posted to Rhodesia for the war, going back to Greece knowing that they will fight and die alongside their fellow communists in the civil war.

Lessing knew whereof she spoke when it came to sectarian backbiting and half-hearted efforts at living out values, and it shows, in this book and the previous installment, “A Ripple From the Storm.” She also depicts, like no other, living multiple lives- that was what her magnum opus, “The Golden Notebook,” is about, and in “Landlocked” we see her furiously pedaling her bike between her many lives: activist, thankless peacekeeper between activists, working secretary, wife, lover, daughter in a fraught relationship with a dying father and hypochondriac mother. The whole time, Martha is dreaming of making her way to Britain and escape- and she does get on the boat to Britain, in any event. This gives the whole installment a certain “running out the clock” feel, especially when you know that this is the penultimate book in the series, but Lessing can be relied upon to make even a feeling like that come alive. ****’

Review- Lessing, “Landlocked”

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