Diaries of Jane Somers

Lessing, Doris. The Diaries of Jane Somers: The Diary of a Good Neighbour and If the Old Could… New York: Vintage, 1984.

Here’s what I find fascinating about Doris Lessing – she wanted to publish something pseudonymously. She chose the name Jane Somers, wrote in a completely different voice and then submitted  The Diaries of a Good Neighbour. Her own publishers turned her down. One publisher (who accepted the Somers work) was reminded of Doris Lessing! Can you imagine writing with such personal style that its recognizable without an author name attached? Even after you try to hide your true voice? That, to me, is real fame in the world of writing!

The Diaries of Jane Somers is comprised of two emotional, very telling, sad novels, The Diary of a Good Neighbour and If the Old Could…. In The Diary of a Good Neighbour Jane befriends an elderly woman. What I find fascinating about this story is Jane herself. She is middle-aged, has no children, and is a highly successful, fashionable editor of a woman’s magazine. She comes across as unfeeling and snobbish. She barely mourns the loss of her husband to cancer, is decidedly cold about the death of her mother by the same disease, and is completely disconnected from her sister. With no real friends of her own she even shuns her elderly neighbor desperate for companionship. Oddly enough, Jane meets Maudie, a dirty, ferociously proud woman in her 90’s and instantly feels a connection. The Diary of a Good Neighbour not only details the two women and their remarkable friendship but voices what it means to be vulnerable, to have shame, and, to grow old in a society that prides itself on youthful appearances, vitality and independence.
If the Old Could…is a continuation of Jane’s story. Told several years after the death of Maudie (sorry, but you knew she couldn’t live forever, right?) Jane falls in love with a married man. This time her selflessness is poured into helping her nieces as well as finding what it means to truly hurt over another person.

Favorite lines: “She was literally inarticulate with anger” (p 59). This scene is like a chapter out of my own life. Not that my sister and I have ever had the conversation tied to this statement, but I could picture us having it.
“…I don’t know what children are, and I’m not entitled to say a word, because of my selfish childishness…” (p 62).
“Meanwhile I rage with sorrow” (79). Isn’t this just great? Some people imagine sorrow being this quiet, slow-moving, thick and heavy emotion yet Lessing turns it into this live-wire, powerfully explosive, loud and in your face emotion with one word, rage.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Aging” (p 17). Very appropriate.

2 Comments on “Diaries of Jane Somers”

  1. sarah says:

    another book to add to my list of books to read

  2. gr4c5 says:

    Have tissues or something to cheer you up afterwards because it is long (502 pages) and sad! It’s worth it, though!

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.