'Love, again' by Doris Lessing is ostensibly about an older woman falling in love with two young men, but I found I was much more drawn to the background story of the wayward Julie Viaron, around who's life The Green Bird theatre company are devising a production. It traces also the friendship between Sarah and Stephen, their wealthy backer who had also developed a tragic fascination with the character of Julie. So poor Sarah must contend with a painful crush on the tantalising Bill, replaced by a deep burning passion for Henry, the director, and fending off the outrageous advances of Andrew, another of the young actors with a 'thing' for older women. As she dances back and forth amongst all this male attention there is hardly a mention of her relationships with the women that she is working alongside, women who she would plainly have been very close to. She lives with all this turmoil inside her head, she confides it to no one, so although the story is supposed to be some kind of celebration of love you end up feeling that Sarah is ashamed of what she is experiencing, as if her maturity means she should be beyond all this and it is somehow a little inappropriate.
What I really enjoyed about the story was the growing bond between the theatre company as they work on their play, that has been written by Sarah based on Julie's diaries and some very hypnotic music that she wrote and has recently been rediscovered. All the players are drawn into the story of her life and working to create something they all feel worthwhile:
"They were already a group, a family, partly because if their real interest in this piece, partly because of the infectious energies of Henry. Already they were inside the feeling of conspiracy, faint but unmistakeable, the we-against-the-world born out of the vulnerability of actors in the face of criticism so often arbitrary, or lazy, or ignorant, or spiteful - against the world outside, which was them and not we, the world which they would conquer. It was because if Julie Varion's special atmosphere." (p.81)
The production is an artistic and critical success, which of course becomes its downfall. The local community, wanting to capitalise on the popularity, ends up destroying the woods and the ruin of Julie's house to build car parks and hotels, removing all sense of place and history that had been so integral to the original production. Another member of the production company takes the story and turns it into a rather tacky musical. Life, and the Green Bird, moves on to other things, but Sarah is left with this hopeless passion for Henry. She and Stephen console each other in the absence of anyone else who understands, and so it becomes more a story about that friendship, which is much the most interesting relationship in the book:
"He would ask her about what she had done that day, and tell her what he had, the the careful, meticulous way that she recognised - though she did not want to - as a prophylactic against the absent-mindedness of grief. He asked what she had been reading, and told her what books were pled up on his night table, for he was not sleeping much.
They might talk for an hour or more, while he looked from his window over darkening fields. He could hear the horses moving about, he said. As for her, she had a plane tree outside her window, its middle regions at eye level, and through it she watched the lights of the windows opposite." (p.209-10)
I have become much more interested in Doris Lessing the person than the writer, having followed a series of articles by Jenny Diski in The London Review of Books, about the period that she spent living with Doris as a young woman. I went through a bit of a Doris Lessing phase in my twenties, reading the Children of Violence series, and The Golden Notebook is on my 101 books list for later this year.