What’s A Man and Two Women all about?:
A Man and Two Women tells the story of two married couples who are also great friends although the arrival of a baby on one side tips relationships and the friendship between the four to potential breaking point.
What did I think?:
I was delighted when I discovered that this short story collection, edited by Victoria Hislop had stories by Doris Lessing within. I’ve heard a lot about the author – awarded the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in British Literature, ranked fifth on The Times list of the “50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945,” and a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007 to cap it all off. I have one of her best loved novels The Golden Notebook on my Kindle with no idea when I was going to get round to reading it so this story came just at the right time to give me a bit of an introduction to her work. Now I’m so glad that I have read something of hers, this story was engaging, beautifully written with the most perfect of endings and it has definitely inspired me to pick up The Golden Notebook a bit sooner then I perhaps would have.
The main focus of this narrative is a woman called Stella whom, along with her husband Philip have become very close friends with another couple, Dorothy and Jack Bradford. Both Dorothy and Jack are artists and Stella can identify with them both being an artist herself so when Philip is away at work for extended periods of time (which happens quite often due to him being a journalist) she takes the opportunity to meet up with her friends, revelling in the joy that both the couples have strong, loving relationships.
However, since Stella last visited, Dorothy and Jack have had a baby and as Jack meets her at the station, she can immediately sense something is amiss although Jack’s character will not allow him to admit this openly. On seeing Dorothy again she is surprised by how much her friend has changed. She is obviously in complete awe and adoration of her son and we get the sense that Jack has taken somewhat of a back seat in her affections, either consciously or sub-consciously. She is then more confused when Dorothy begins talking about infidelity – whether she thinks that Philip is unfaithful to her when he is away on business which upsets Stella greatly and confiding in her that Jack admitted he was unfaithful fairly recently. It isn’t his infidelity that bothers Dorothy though, it is the fact that she isn’t bothered in the slightest!
The author really mixes things up with what Dorothy goes on to suggest. Although the idea isn’t particularly repugnant to any of them it has Stella questioning anything and everything about her friends’ relationship which she thought she knew so well and, more importantly, her own feelings and desires. Stella’s own morals and strength of character are tested to the limits but perhaps it is only when put in a situation like this do things become infinitely clearer.
This short story is extremely readable and a great introduction I think for someone like me who had never read any of Doris Lessing’s work before. She clearly has a talent for hooking the reader quite quickly and making them intrigued and interested enough in the characters to want to read to the end, just to find out what the outcome would be. It is a brilliant observation of human relationships, friendships, infidelity, the longevity of marriage, sexual desire and temptation. I also loved the statement that I believe the author was making in that having a child does not make a woman lose her identity, her desires or make her less desirable to others. The next time this collection rolls round it will be another short story by Doris Lessing and I really can’t wait now to read more of her work.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: The New Veterans by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove
Doris Lessing at the Lit Cologne literary festival in 2006 (photograph from Wikipedia)