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The Good Terrorist
by Doris Lessing

The scene is contemporary London, where a loose-knit group of political vagabonds comprises an ill-defined and volatile underground. Drifting from one cause to the next, they occupy abandoned houses, demonstrate and picket, devise strategies to fit situations that may or may not arise. But, within this world, one particular commune - one small group of men and women whose deepest conviction seems to rest in a sense of their own largely untested radicalism - is moving inexorable toward active terrorism.

At their center is Alice Mellings, who, though not the leader, is nevertheless the engine of the group. A brilliant organizer, Alice (in her mid-thirties) knows how to cope with almost anything, except the vacuum of her own life. And so we find her - in this latest of the countless squatters' communes she's inhabited during the past fifteen years - once again taking charge, taking care, being practical. Alice: fixing, replacing, conniving, convincing, cooking. Alice: always there, always reliable, giving her time and effort to running the house so that the others are free to take part in the demonstrations that are the motivating force of their lives. Alice: making herself indispensable - and invisible, earning a precious sense of belonging by denying her own sense of self.

In The Good Terrorist Doris Lessing has given us not only an extraordinarily vivid picture of communal life and lives (the leader, who guards his lair with oppressive jealousy; the imposing female "lieutenant," whose strength goes far beyond those she serves; the madwoman, whose political actions may be the only vent for her severe emotional turmoil; the hangers-on, the intruders, the abusers, the abused), but also a profoundly intuited and timely portrait of the kind of personalities - who they are, how they function, what makes them tick - that can be drawn to this dangerous and frightening way of life."




Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (1 of 9), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Saturday, June 15, 2002 02:46 PM This was an interesting book. Lessing made her main characters difficult to like, I thought. By the middle of the novel, I was ready to give Alice a kick in the butt. What do you think of Alice? Was she really a terrorist or just a spoiled brat as her mother said? And Jasper, Alice's so-called boyfriend, was a complete parasite. My Protestant work ethic kept getting in the way during this novel. I kept thinking that the average working man that they want to help is paying for them to sit around and plan terrorist acts. ***************Spoiler******************* What was the purpose of the explosion at the end? I found it interesting that Alice's group did not claim responsibility and did not tell the media why they set off the explosion. Jane
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (2 of 9), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, June 15, 2002 03:33 PM Ack, I forgot all about this one. Off to the library I go. Ruth
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (3 of 9), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, June 16, 2002 11:58 AM Thanks for starting the thread, Jane. I'm having the same kind of reaction to the characters as you -- sometimes I want to throw the book across the floor (I haven't finished yet, so I may still get the opportunity). When Jasper took that money from Alice when she was in kind of a swoon (which I didn't get) I just wanted to slap her, and I wanted to throttle him. Even though I had no sympathy for her at the start, I do want her to find a way to be happy, although, that seems unlikely. Her obsession with the house is the most interesting thing in the book to me. I think she's trying to recreate her own childhood -- her own home, even though she seems to rejects all the social mechanisms that allowed her to have that childhood. I don't understand why she hates her father so much (because he left her mother?) What a bundle of contradictions she is. A real case of arrested development. Sherry
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (4 of 9), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, June 16, 2002 12:33 PM I managed to get about 3/4 of the way thru this after I picked it up at the library yesterday. Alice is a basket case. Needier than any of the "needy" people she feels compelled to help. Not to mention those blackout rages. I thought this was going to turn out to be a study of a group of people and how each got to this turn in life. But now I think no, it's trying to let us see one twisted life in depth. Anybody think it's succeeding in that goal? Ruth
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (5 of 9), Read 27 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Sunday, June 16, 2002 12:49 PM "Arrested development" is exactly right. I was surprised when I read that she was close to 40 years old. Up until then I saw her as no more than 16. Especially, when she through the rock through the window of her father's house. What a horrible brat! Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (6 of 9), Read 22 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Sunday, June 16, 2002 02:37 PM Ruth, I thought that Lessing did a good job of looking into the emotional state ("needy" expresses it well) and the rationalizations which went on in Alice's mind. She has a view of life which is restricted by her emotions. This leads her to the delusion that a political system can change human nature. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (7 of 9), Read 14 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, June 16, 2002 09:09 PM Dean, You mentioned the scene where Alice threw the rock through her father's window. Lessing made that scene particularly poignant, because the next part of the book dealt with the young woman who was not allowed to move into the house. She had come to throw a rock through the window of the group home. Alice's first thought is, "How pathetic!." She doesn't make the connection that her act was even more pathetic. Alice reminds me of a friend's little brothers. My friend and I were in our twenties and her brothers were 11 and 12. She had to explain to them that just because you go to the bank and cash a check didn't mean that they could do that. They hadn't made the connection that my friend had put the money in the bank, so she had the right to withdraw it. The boys thought that anyone could go to the bank and get money. Such a deal! Jane
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (8 of 9), Read 10 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Monday, June 17, 2002 04:55 AM Excellent point, Jane. It was that inability to make connections that made Alice herself pathetic. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (9 of 9), Read 7 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Monday, June 17, 2002 09:08 AM This discussion is driving my crazy because I haven't been able to get the book yet! It's due to be returned to my branch of the library today, and I'm real antsy to start it. Sounds like a good 'un! Beej
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (10 of 17), Read 20 times Conf: Reading List From: Ee Lin Kuan eelin@althor.fsnet.co.uk Date: Tuesday, June 18, 2002 06:05 PM Hi everyone, I too thought it was an interesting book. Normally, I doubt if the premise of the book would have inspired me to pick it up, but I found that a few pages in, I was drawn by the characters. They seemed very real. The characters seemed to be drifters with no purpose except to protest against something. Sometimes they didn't even seem to believe in the causes they were protesting against. They just went whenever and wherever there happened to be a protest. They seemed to be parroting whatever was considered to be fashionable in their circles. And despite all their protests about governments and fascism and such, they had no qualms about taking money and going to cafes and enjoying themselves. Despite all of Alice's protestations about bourgeois comforts, she seemed to desire them very much as she was the one who managed to bring some comfort back to the squat they were living in. I enjoyed Alice's thoughts about Mary and Reggie and all her little statements about the typical middle-class couple, such as accumulating things and wealth, their safe opinions on what to protest about etc. They seemed fairly on-point. ***************Spoiler******************* I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book and I really did want to finish it. I didn't quite understand about the explosion at the end. Did they all suddenly realise the enormity of the consequences and then quickly run away so they could forget about it? Did Alice also do the same thing, suppress all memory of incidents that make her uncomfortable? Ee Lin
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (11 of 17), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Tuesday, June 18, 2002 06:40 PM Anybody still reading? Do we still need SPOILERS? .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sometime in the middle of the book I began to suspect Alice was suppressing certain unpleasant incidences, but then almost at the end when she was talking to her mother about when/why her mother sold the house, it became obvious. I gathered that, oh what was her name, the one who kept having the screaming meemies? Fiona? Anyway, I think she used the bomb as a method of finally committing suicide. She intentionally set it to go off early. And she didn't care if she killed any of the others with her. As for the scattering, hadn't they agreed that they all would go their separate ways as soon as the bombing was over? In order to escape detection. What about the guy at the end. The one Alice is going to have lunch with. I suspect he's the Long Arm of the Law. As usual, everyone's left Alice to pick up after them. And as usual, Alice has arranged it so she has to. Ruth
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (12 of 17), Read 20 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, June 19, 2002 09:56 AM I agree, Ruth. Faye used the car-bomb as a fool-proof suicide. It seemed a little unrealistic that Jasper only got facial cuts, while people on the street were killed. He was standing right by the door. But maybe that is wishful thinking. I'm sure Peter Cecil (the man who is coming to lunch) is the law. The last sentence of the book is telling: "Smiling gently, a mug of very strong sweet tea in her hand, looking this morning like a nine-year-old girl who has had, perhaps, a bad dream, the poor baby sat waiting for it to be time to go out and meet the professionals." Sherry
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (13 of 17), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Wednesday, June 19, 2002 11:29 AM I've just barely started this book, although it was my nomination and I was tickled pink when it won. But I was anxious to finish one I'd started in Tennessee last week before The Good Terrorist, but have been much to busy and finally set it aside. It must be 4 or 5 years since I read TGT, but Alice really stayed with me, and every time I noticed it on the shelf there was that urge to re-read it. Whenever an author calls a character "Alice", my guard is up that we'll fall through the rabbit hole sooner or later. As much as Alice, it was the writing style that kept me riveted, it seemed to me Lessing used what could have been an exhausting number of details - every little detail possible - but for some reason it wasn't exhausting, it created a real sense of the place and people, the tensions they lived with and the frustrations Alice ignored. I can remember being surprised by the bombing at the end, but don't remember Alice going to meet the law. I've really got to read this fast now! Tonya
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (14 of 17), Read 26 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, June 19, 2002 11:40 AM The writing is so smooth that this one is an easy one to sail thru, Tonya. But that said, while it is smooth and competent and effective, it lacks those wonderful little moments when you realize something has been said in a way so perfect that it takes your breath away. Ruth
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (15 of 17), Read 15 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, June 19, 2002 10:00 PM Ruth, That is a good point about the writing. It was smooth but not special. Jane
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (16 of 17), Read 11 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Thursday, June 20, 2002 01:06 PM I agree, she doesn't do that. Or at least not in this book. This is really a slow reading period for me, I'm in the midst of other real world projects that are busy, busy, busy (must have had 20 phone calls yesterday, AAARGH!). I've still barely cracked this book and it is driving me NUTS! Tonya
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (17 of 17), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Thursday, June 20, 2002 01:12 PM I did find that this was one of those books that was hard to put down. I pretty much took it in a 2 day gulp. And not once did I stop to think, "This writing's clumsy," or "I could write a better scene than that," or "phony dialogue." I'd say it's the kind of writing that makes writing disappear. Ruth
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (18 of 30), Read 38 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Friday, June 21, 2002 10:48 PM At first, I thought Alice was nothing more than a spoiled brat, too. But then I started having all these questions..like, why the complete aversion to sex? Was it because both her parents had affairs, or that her father left her mother for a younger woman? And, why call yourself a terrorist, when the highlight of your terrorist career is writing graffiti on some wall and running from the police? (As Alice, herself, was quick to note, she really had little or nothing to do with the bombing.) Seems to me the only people Alice terrorized were her parents. The parties her mother gave seemed to have some tie to Alice's behavior as well as this house #43. Her mother was the queen of organizing these parties, and Alice felt insignificant and on the outside of the family when these parties were going on. and they went on ALOT. (Alice found safety only by doing things in the kitchen the morning after these parties.) There's also something about Alice being booted out of her bedroom and sleeping on the floor next to her parents bed after these parties, where she felt very alone, very abandoned and disconnected. At house #43, Alice was the organizer and at the crux of her newly found 'family.' yet, just when Alice has formed a sort of connection with her mother by being the 'chief organizer' of this house, she finds her mother has moved to a lowly flat. I really think there's a lot more going on with Alice besides her 'brattiness.' I think she's a very, very complicated character. Beej
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (19 of 30), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, June 22, 2002 12:17 AM I think she's a psychological basket case who was no more attracted to the terrorist causes than she was an effective terrorist. She wanted people to need her. She hooked up with whathisface because she knew that protected her from sex. She wanted to give her parents pain. And a few more little issues like that. Ruth
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (20 of 30), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Saturday, June 22, 2002 04:59 AM There were several things, including the aversion to sex, that suggested to me that Alice was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. She was very good at conveniently forgetting (in fact, totally blocking out) things from her past. Do you think that could have been part of the source of her anger at her father? Lynn
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (21 of 30), Read 39 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, June 22, 2002 10:07 AM Lynn, I wondered if she had been sexually abused as a child by her father, too. But, my guess is that she hated her dad because he supplied to his new family, the sort of family life she had desired as a child. I vaguely remember something about Alice, as a child, repeatedly asking her mother if she was a good girl. I think Alice tried very hard to have her goodness validated..hence, the title of the book. I think everything she did was somehow tied in with the feelings of alienation she felt from her parents. This might also be at the root to her aversion to sex. With the possible witnessing of her parent's sexual encounters after these parties, it only validated her feelings of being on the outside. I cannot understand why her mother forfeited her chance (and cash) to turn the upstairs of her home into a rental unit, in order to take in Alice and Jasper. Alice's dad repeatedly told Dorothy to kick them out..they were, after all, no longer children..and she refused. i don't think this was a case of a mother's desire to help her child. I think there was an ulterior, selfish motive. Beej
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (22 of 30), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, June 22, 2002 12:01 PM Maybe the mother is where Alice got some of her need to make people a home. Maybe the mother HAD to do it, like Alice HAD to fix up the old house. Ruth
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (23 of 30), Read 36 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Saturday, June 22, 2002 12:03 PM And, maybe in Alice's mind, reconstructing this house was a way to reconstruct the home of her childhood. this all reminds me of Steinbeck's theory in EofE, that a great deal of our happiness in life, or lack thereof, is based on how we view our early childhood relationships with our parents. Do you think Alice was jealous of her mother's relationship with her father? Or, jealous of all the care Dorothy put into planning these extravagant parties while pushing Alice into the background? And, didn't the rest of the clan, in house #43, also push Alice into the background while they planned their terrorist activities? Beej
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (24 of 30), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2002 09:15 AM The last Lessing that I read was The Golden Notebook in the 70's. Either she changed a lot between the writing of these two or I changed a lot between the readings...or both? The viewpoint seems to be much more of an exterior one. I've been really interested in your discussion of Alice's motivations. Her childhood certainly seems to be the key and Lessing seems to be making it very much a puzzle, giving us little bits of information to put together. It's limited by Alice's own skewed and patchy memories. Her seemingly legendary ability to save squats and make them comfortable certainly seems to come from her own needs to recreate the comfort of her childhood home. I was interested too by her comrades' reaction. At first, they view it all with distaste, evidence of her need for bourgeois comfort. Then, in spite of themselves, they enjoy it enormously. If I remember correctly, the outstanding comments from the visitors to the Congress involved the comfort of the house. Jocelin seems to be the only one who is indifferent to them. And, she is the most focused and scariest one of the group, I think. One of the most interesting things to me about the book was its description of the political group. In the late 60's and 70's, I was involved with a number of fairly leftist groups (though nothing to the extent of this one) and knew people who were involved in far more radical groups. All of them eventually fell into stratifications much like Lessing has portrayed here. If individuals wanted to discuss ideas that challenged the group's beliefs, they were usually treated with disdain, even hissed and booed in large groups. I came to feel that they were being just as limiting as the groups they were rejecting. And, Lessing has absolutely nailed that environment. Really interesting book, Tonya. It's not one that I burrowed down into comfortably, but Lessing certainly has me thinking and I'm glad I read it. Barb
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (25 of 30), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2002 11:35 AM Good comments, Barb. I think it was interesting that Alice was reared in a background of leftist thinkers. It wasn't like she just up and rebelled completely. It almost seemed like she was trying to carry on and further some hidden tradition for herself. But every time she corresponded with either of her parents it was: F*** this, or f*** that. Not exactly the kind of speech pattern that is likely to engender a positive response. Was she trying to prove that she was a better socialist than they were? Was she trying to prove that they had reneged on some promise she thought they had given her? I think her father's remarriage angered her for a number of reasons. How could he do this to Mother? And: How could he do this to ME? He basically erased her status in the family by having much younger children. Major betrayal. Sherry
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (26 of 30), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2002 11:57 AM On a couple of occasions, Alice refers to herself as her mother's daughter, as if trying to be good in her mother's eyes. Yet, she terrorized her mother. She did the same to her father but there was no mention of Alice trying to measure up to any standard of his. To her mother, Alice was both good and a terrorist. I got the impression that Alice had bullied her mother into boarding her and Jasper. Yet, Alice seemed unable to accept that she was responsible for her mom losing her house. Alice herself seems oblivious to the pattern which she is playing out with her parents, especially her mom. Alice has made contacts which will force her to view her behaviour from outside this pattern: the people whose guns she threw away and a man who may be a police detective. Whoever gets to her first, I feel that Alice's world is about to be shattered. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (27 of 30), Read 22 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2002 12:20 PM Barb, I, too, hadn't read a Lessing for years and years and years. You're right. Either she's changed, or we have. I don't remember her other books as being nearly so psychologically oriented. Ruth
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (28 of 30), Read 26 times Conf: Reading List From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2002 01:26 PM "From the perspective of middle age, she examines a few of her favorite books after the passage of 20 or 30 years and reflects on how her reactions to them have changed." From a review of Wendy Lesser's NOTHING REMAINS THE SAME: READING AND REMEMBRANCE. The several editorial reviews at Amazon are very mixed. It is on my TBR list be reason of a review in the NYT, but I have my doubts now. Anyhow, you've got an interesting subject going - rereading at a distance. As I've remarked before, I once collected books on the principle that I would only put out money for books I wanted to reread; then it was for books I wanted to read in my old age; now it's for books I've got to have NOW. The latest was Epstein's SNOBBERY which I have yet to get into - sheer perversity (which goes well satin sneakiness). pres
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (29 of 30), Read 16 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2002 04:06 PM Good points about her politics not being the usual rebellion, Sherry. At times, she seemed to be daring her parents to live up to the philosophies that they had always professed to believe. It amazed me that she was so incredibly rude when she asked them for something. Do you remember the note to her father, asking him to give Jim a job? And, didn't you know what was going to happen to Jim when she took that money from her father? I was just waiting for the other shoe to fall. Her treatment of Jim prior to that was one of the few things I liked about her. Ruth and Pres, I'd love to go back and check my viewpoint on a number of books if I just didn't have this list that I haven't read yet. Barb
Topic: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing (30 of 30), Read 15 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2002 04:13 PM Yes, Barb, I knew Jim would be blamed. She obviously didn't have that ability that allows a person to connect dot "a" to dot "b". She was always being surprised at the results of her actions, whereas "we" all knew what was going to happen, and were groaning in exasperation for her. Yet I think her portrayal is very realistic. I know people who seem to be missing the connect-the-dot gene. They'll run up their credit card and act amazed that the folks at CitiBank want their money. Sherry

 

 
Doris Lessing
Doris Lessing

 
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