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Text and drugs and no hyperbole - Doris Lessing's candid tales

PUBLISHED: 13:28 30 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:15 07 September 2010

By Miguel Cullen NOBEL Prize winner Doris Lessing held a rapt audience in her sway in West Hampstead with candid tales of squatting, drug use and deer hunting in Africa. Literati descended on the Czechoslovakian restaurant last Thursday evening to celebra

By Miguel Cullen

NOBEL Prize winner Doris Lessing held a rapt audience in her sway in West Hampstead with candid tales of squatting, drug use and deer hunting in Africa.

Literati descended on the Czechoslovakian restaurant last Thursday evening to celebrate the West End Lane Book Group's 100th book reading.

Alfred and Emily has been penned by local author Ms Lessing, so it was fitting that she turned up to discuss the novel with her readers.

Last October she became the oldest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature at the age of 88, and she read extracts of her new book to the intimate gathering before discussing other issues.

The book group's founder, Jerry Whyte, expressed his deep pride at the presence of Ms Lessing at the occasion.

"For the 100th book reading I needed to do something special and I thought I have to invite Doris," he said.

"I remember asking Doris when she came into West End Lane Bookshop why she declined her damehood, and she said 'Well, Da-me Doris would make me sound like a pantomime horse. Also, what's the point of being a Dame of the British Empire when there's none left?'

"I'm honoured that she could come here to talk to us."

Having read from her new book, local resident Ms Lessing discussed some wider themes with the audience.

She said: "It's very sensible to squat. I remember living next to squatters in West Hampstead. All they used to talk about was money.

"My granddaughter lived in a squat in south London. She was the ideal squatter. She paid all her bills on time."

Reminiscing about her childhood living on a farm in Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe - she said: "It was an extraordinary thing to be out all day for hours, sitting on a log and watching the birds.

"I used to go out with a .22 rifle. I might bring back a deer. It's something that children today don't do."

Ms Lessing talked candidly of her time in the 1960s, from supporting the CND to dabbling in drugs: "I've only ever taken one shot of mescaline. I used to take marijuana but it didn't do anything for me, I found it depressing."

Speaking on events in modern-day Zimbabwe, she said: "Mbeki [the president of South Africa] is the real villain. He is a wreck and not very bright.

"It is heartbreak seeing the sad fate of women who try to go south to South Africa from Zimbabwe, when they are sent straight back at the border."

Speaking of politics, Ms Lessing said: "I don't think young people should necessarily be politically active. You can be active politically for the wrong cause. Take the BNP, for example."

All 100 books the club has read were brought to the special event to mark the milestone. Previous books read have included Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Don Quixote by Cervantes and Swann's Way by Proust.

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