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The Cleft: A Novel

The Cleft: A Novel
Author: Doris Lessing
ISBN 13: 9780060834876
ISBN 10: 60834870
Edition: a
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: 2008-01-29
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
List Price: $14.99

Doris Lessing, Winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature

Doris Lessing, one of England's finest living novelists, invites us to imagine a mythical society free from sexual intrigue, free from jealousy, free from petty rivalries: a society free from men.

An old Roman senator, contemplative at his late stage of life, embarks on what will likely be his last endeavor: the retelling of the story of human creation. He recounts the history of the Clefts, an ancient community of women living in an Edenic, coastal wilderness, confined within the valley of an overshadowing mountain. The Clefts have no need nor knowledge of men -- childbirth is controlled, like the tides that lap around their feet, through the cycles of the moon, and they only bear female children. But with the unheralded birth of a strange, new child -- a boy -- the harmony of their sexless community is suddenly thrown into jeopardy.

In this fascinating and beguiling novel, Lessing confronts head-on the themes that inspired much of her early writing: how men and women, two similar and yet thoroughly distinct creatures, manage to live side by side in the world, and how the troublesome particulars of gender affect every aspect of our existence.

Publishers Weekly

Eminent novelist Lessing offers an alternative origin story for the human race, indirectly recalling the alternate world speculations of her Canopus in ArgosSF novels. Positing that the primal human stock was female rather than male, Lessing invents a cult of ancient women called the Clefts, a name derived, in part, from that essential part of female anatomy. The story of the Clefts is bookended by the journal of a Roman historian, who interprets ancient documents stating that females were originally impregnated by "a fertilizing wind or a wave," to give birth to female children. But one day a "deformed" baby is born, with a "lumpy swelling" never seen before. The first rape and the first murder follow soon enough, as do the first instances of consensual intercourse and the babies-the first of a new race, with a nature derived from both sexes-that are the result. Humor, which may or may not be intentional, is introduced into a generally lethargic text when women and men discover they can't live with or without each other, and the battle of the sexes commences. The novel has elements of a feminist tract, but the story it tells doesn't present a significant challenge to that of Adam and Eve. (Aug.)

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