Squatters & the real Doris Lessing - RIP

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun Nov 17 20:00:04 GMT 2013



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 worlds, 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.

Suddenly, however, the stakes are rising. Some of the group appear to 
have ties to insurgents in North Ireland and even to Soviets who are 
"recruiting" ... a small bomb set off on a deserted street leads to 
ideas that are dangerously ambitious.. a crate of guns is left at the 
house for reasons Alice and her companions don't want to understand 
fully... and there is a man, a "professional," who is eager to meet 
with Alice and discuss her future with his organization.

Now there is dissension within the commune, a dissolution of the 
already tenuous focus and spirit that has so far kept it whole, and 
Alice finds herself at the center again. But this time it is the 
center of a circle on the verge of collapse, and it falls to her to 
make decisions that entail a kind of terrorism - political and 
personal - that she has never really meant to involve herself in, but 
which, finally, she may be helpless to avoid.

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."

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