The Good Terrorist

Background

Doris Lessing's interest in politics began in the 1940s while she was living in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). She was attracted to a group of "quasi-Communist[s]" and joined their Left Book Club in Salisbury (now Harare).[8] Later, prompted by the conflicts arising from racial segregation that was prominent in Rhodesia at the time, she also joined the Southern Rhodesian Labour Party.[9] Lessing moved to London in 1949 and began her writing career there. She became a member of the British Communist Party in the early 1950s, and was an active campaigner against the use of nuclear weapons.[9]

By 1964 Lessing had published six novels, but grew disillusioned with Communism and, after reading The Sufis by Idries Shah, turned her attention to Sufism, an Islamic belief system.[10][11] This prompted her to write her "space fiction" series, Canopus in Argos: Archives, which drew on Sufi concepts. The series was not well received by some of her readers,[10] who felt she had abandoned her "rational worldview".[12]

The Good Terrorist was Lessing's first book to be published after the Canopus in Argos series, which prompted several retorts from reviewers, including, "Lessing has returned to Earth",[13] and "Lessing returns to reality".[14] Several commentators have labelled The Good Terrorist a satire,[15][16][17] while Lessing called it "quite a funny book".[1] She said:

[I]t's not a book with a political statement. It's ... about a certain kind of political person, a kind of self-styled revolutionary that can only be produced by affluent societies. There's a great deal of playacting that I don't think you'd find in extreme left revolutionaries in societies where they have an immediate challenge.[13]

Lessing said she was inspired to write the novel by the 1983 Harrods bombing in London by the IRA.[1] "[T]he media reported it to sound as if it was the work of amateurs. I started to think, what kind of amateurs could they be?"[13] She realised "how easy it would be for a kid, not really knowing what he or she was doing, to drift into a terrorist group."[13] Lessing already had Alice in mind as the central character: "I know several people like Alice—this mixture of ... maternal caring, ... and who can contemplate killing large numbers of people without a moment's bother."[1] She described Alice as "quietly comic[al]" because she is so full of contradictions.[13] She said she also knew who Alice's "boyfriend", Jasper, would be, but was surprised how some of the other characters developed, like the pill-popping and fragile Faye,[18] who turned out to be a "destroyed person".[1]


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