The Good Terrorist

The Good Terrorist

by Doris Lessing

The Good Terrorist follows Alice Mellings, a woman who transforms her home into a headquarters for a group of radicals who plan to join the IRA.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.68
  • Pages: 400
  • Publish Date: March 17th 2003 by Flamingo
  • Isbn10: 0586090045
  • Isbn13: 9780586090046

What People Think about "The Good Terrorist"

Lessings triumph is getting deep inside the complex mind of Alice Mellings, a spoilt, entitled and very clever upper-middle-class woman in her 30s who acts like the squats den mother and is filled with contradictions. Whats remarkable is that Lessing lets us see things through Alices perspective, but also shows us how appalling her behaviour is on a human level. One of the most disturbing things about the book is how the revolutionaries dont care about human life, only their own needs. Alices insights and frustrating contradictions will haunt me, as will Lessings brilliant, disturbing image of burying shit literally, buckets of human waste in ones back yard.

The surprising thing is that Lewis lived though WW II, and was writing not that long after the Nuremberg trials, which, I thought at least, ought to have established for that generation that it's not sufficient merely to say that one was obeying orders. So it seemed natural to me to think that someone ought to write a book that filled in the gaps, portraying a not overly bright but essentially kind and well-meaning person who inadvertently and largely unknowingly finds themselves serving evil. In Lewis's novel, evil is at least satisfyingly grandiose; Puzzle's misguided actions trigger the Apocalypse, which eventually turns out to be a Good Thing. In Lessing's version, evil is more like the kind that we see every day.

The difference is that Jackson's work is peopled with dozens of characters, every one of whom is at least off-putting and many of whom are positively repulsive. By the end of the book, the reader is forced to wonder what the point was either of reading or writing that book. Her mother, Dorothy, is to me the most compelling character. Like many women of her generation, she realizes too late that the ordinary choices she made -- not going on to university, marrying very young -- doomed her to a life she's determined her own daughter won't repeat. But Alice refuses to learn the lessons her mother struggles to teach her. You've become a dreary bigot, Zoe, do you know that?" And later in that conversation come this observation, which I'm terrified may be true: "People go on demonstrations because they get a kick out of it. They watch you at it and think: Good, that's keeping them busy." Her friend accuses her of wanting to "smash things up." She means that Dorothy wants "to break with all your friends;" but I think Alice, who overheard this entire conversation, takes this idea quite literally. Dorothy has recently told Alice that Dorothy wasted her life cooking for people (family, friends) and is glad she doesn't have to anymore.

In terms of not being like myself, an armchair critic who continues to reside in a well off suburban area, Alice gets full marks. Armchair critic I may be, but as a member of a settler state, I am aware of how easily my death (among many) could appear in a chapter that touched upon "The Driving out of the Invaders of the North Americas" in the longer history of things, if the continent would even still be termed said Eurocentric such. Unlike Alice, I do not pretend to be entitled to any more death and destruction for "the greater good." There are huge numbers of protests going around my country right now, and there will continue to be so while politics commits certain groups to the sector of Open Season. Those who see politics as useless, solely the fault of the populace, a mass hallucination of the young, a laughable thought of community in the state of supreme individualism, or solely the act of voting, walk away.

I must applaud Lessing for her skill at creating characters, Alice in particular, who are utterly annoying, petulant, stupid, dangerously immature, and appallingly destructive. Alice is clever and spooky-smart about people, capable of seeing through them to their real motivations, and then using that--without compunction--to manipulate them and steal from them. Lessing provided proof points to discount every possible reason why the 36-year-old Alice, living in a squat with a closeted gay boyfriend who frequently abandons and abuses her, is everybody's doormat. Mental illness, generational poverty, lack of education, childhood abuse or neglect--none of these likely suspects bore fruit as a logical explanation for Alice's behaviour. But...I'm questioning myself because smart people, not the least of whom the author herself, seem to think she was "quite mad" (as Lessing says in the The Languages We Use afterword). The greater accomplishment was the extremely compelling dynamic between the unpleasantness of the characters, the stupidity and hypocrisy of their minor acts of vandalism and thievery and their own petty conflicts with each other versus the stumbling but inexorable march, despite being barely capable of getting themselves arrested along the way, to the final, bloody conclusion.

"Die gute Terroristin ist eine dramatische und literarisch aufregende Mischung aus Thriller, Gesellschaftsroman, Zeitgemälde und einem glühenden Plädoyer, dem Terror endlich eine endgültige Absage zu erteilen." Meine Meinung: Ein sprödes langweiliges nichtssagendes Werk in dem gehirntote gelangweilte Kinder der Oberschicht mit einem ausreichenden sozialen Netz a bissi rebellieren, Kommunismus und Arbeiterklasse spielen, alle verachten (auch jene Arbeiter, für die sie zu kämpfen vorgeben), blöde Parolen von Faschisten und Klassenkampf klopfen, die Eltern beklauen, demonstrieren, a bissi dilletantisch Bombenattentate ausführen... Die paar authentischen wirklichen arbeitslosen Hausbesetzer aus der Unterschicht werden eh an den Rand gedrängt, ausgenutzt und wenn sie abkratzen, zuckt man noch kurz mit den Schultern, schüttelt sich ab und macht mir der gaar so wichtigen Revolution weiter. Dabei muss ich bezüglich meiner Bewertung sagen, unsymphatische Figuren machen mir gar nichts aus, aber wenn sie derart gähnend langweilig beschrieben sind, dann muss ich die Autorin abstrafen. Ausgewalzt nicht nur auf mehreren Seiten, nein es wird immer wieder als Thema im Roman aus der Mottenkiste des bourgeoisen Grauens hervorgekramt für jeden einzelnen der Gruppe aber auch jeder Fremde wird aufgrund des Sprachduktus detailliert analysiert und taxiert. Das ist wirklich soooo *gähn*, wo die Thrillerelemente bei all dem Gekoche, Geputze, den Reparaturen dem peinlichen Spiel auf Eratzfamilie und wo das glühende Plädoyer gegen Terrorismus in diesem Buch abgeblieben sein soll, ist mir schleierhaft, ich habs mit der Lupe gesucht, und nicht gefunden.

Her co-revolutionaries are all freeloading under-achievers like Alice, the difference being that she could easily make something of her life, while most of her "comrades" are just plain losers. At first this seems like as much a joke as any of their other plans, since Alice is the only one who ever actually does anything, and she's mostly doing housework and den-mothering all these wanker wannabes. I might have wished there was a bit more action, maybe a twist or two, but The Good Terrorist held my attention and Doris Lessing's writing had no real weakness other than a leisurely in-no-hurry-to-get-anywhere pace. This wasn't an exciting book and the plot is only there to make the characters do things while we get to know them, but the day-to-day mundanity of the story is deceptive, and if that's all you see, you're missing the point, which is the banality of evil and the obligation of anyone who wants to consider themselves a "good" person to not do nothing when other people are doing things you know are wrong.

Soon she was drawn to the like-minded members of the Left Book Club, a group of Communists "who read everything, and who did not think it remarkable to read." Gottfried Lessing was a central member of the group; shortly after she joined, they married and had a son. During the postwar years, Lessing became increasingly disillusioned with the Communist movement, which she left altogether in 1954. In 2001 she was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Literature, one of Spain's most important distinctions, for her brilliant literary works in defense of freedom and Third World causes. She also received the David Cohen British Literature Prize.