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2 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

The Sweetest Dream

by

The Sweetest Dream Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

An Introduction

This multigenerational story of the Lennox family spans most of the twentieth century and has its fulcrum in London during the 1960s, that turbulent and contradictory decade. The youth of that time, shattering old bonds and demanding new freedoms, were viewed by many of their elders not as romantic idealists, but as deeply damaged people. Julia, the Lennox clan matriarch and a victim herself of World War II, knows why. "You can't have two dreadful wars and then say 'That's it, and now everything will go back to normal.' They're screwed up, our children, they are the children of war." The aloof, well-to-do Julia and her daughter-in-law, the beleaguered Frances, fight together on behalf of "the kids" and their omnipresent band of dysfunctional friends. Earth Mother Frances's self-sacrifice and passivity are put to the test repeatedly by her ex-husband, 'Comrade' Johnny, the maddening figure whose ceaseless political agenda threatens to tear the Lennox family apart. Here is a memorable picture of a character only recently departed from our scene. "The revolution comes before personal matters" is Johnny's dictum, as he deposits discarded wives and forsaken children in the accommodating house whose emotional center is always the extendable kitchen table, that essential prop of the '60s.

The friends of the family who occupy this table spend their evenings eating, boasting about their shoplifting, and debating the violent ideologies of their time — blithely unaware that their politics and beliefs will involve them more fully in the world. The latter portion of "The Sweetest Dream recounts the experiences of Sylvia, Johnny's daughter by his second wife, in an Africanvillage dying of AIDS. Her fortitude in confronting the quintessential plague of the 1980s brings this story full-circle and engages it in some of the most profound issues of our era. This novel reflects our recent history like a many-faceted mirror, and it is full of people not easily forgotten, each — for worse or for better, directly or indirectly — made by war.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you characterize the relationship between Julia and Frances Lennox? Were there any elements of their living arrangements that surprised you? How did you react when Sylvia came to stay in the Lennox house? Were Julia and Frances's reactions to her arrival typical in any way?

  2. When Julia discusses the children's problems with Frances, she argues: "It's a good expression, that: "screwed up. I know why they are...They're all war children, that is why. Two terrible wars and this is the result." (138) To what extent do you agree with her analysis? Do you think Julia has a special bias when it comes to the effects of war?

  3. What role does Comrade Johnny play in the course of the book? Did you understand his political agenda? What were your impressions of his relationships with his children, Colin and Andrew; his wives, Phyllida and Frances, and his mother? How was his personality articulated?

  4. What did you think of the hodgepodge of characters assembled around the Lennox kitchen table? In what ways are their complaints typical of teenagers? Did they express any adult concerns that you found noteworthy? Discuss your thoughts on Sophie's relationships with Andrew, Roland, and Colin.

  5. During her liaison with Harold Holman, Frances confronts his idealistic visionof her former husband, Johnny: "And so they lay side by side, and if he was letting go dreams, such dreams, such sweet sweet dreams, she was thinking, Obviously I'm a very selfish person, just as Johnny always said." (120) To what do you think the title, "The Sweetest Dream refers? Does this scene offer any clues?

  6. How would you describe the scene that takes place at the dinner celebrating the publication of Colin's book? Are the actions and reactions of Frances, Johnny, Colin, and Andrew what you expected, based on their defined roles in the family?

  7. Rose Trimble, the former Lennox houseguest turned journalist, attacks Colin, Julia, and Silvia in the course of her career, accusing them of Nazi affiliations. How does this turn of events affect Julia? How does it affect Silvia? Is Rose's behavior anticipated by her treatment of the Lennox family when she lives with them?

  8. What did you think of Sylvia's transformation from a fragile, needy young girl to a courageous doctor in Zimlia? Are there aspects of her work that you found especially interesting, in light of her childhood? What are they? About the Author: Doris Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran) in 1919 to British parents. In 1925, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Lessing was enrolled in a convent school and, later, an all-girls high school, from which she dropped out at age 13, ending her formal education. At the age of 19, Lessing married and later gave birth to two children. She left her family in order to pursue her own career and interests, and found herself drawn to the Left Book Club, a Communist group. Shortly after she joined the Communist Party, she marriedGottfried Lessing; they married and had a son. By 1949, Lessing was living in London with her son and had published The Grass is Singing, launching her career as a professional writer. During the postwar years, Lessing became increasingly disillusioned with the Communist movement, which she left in 1954. Over the years, Lessing has attempted to accommodate what she admires in novels of the 19th century — their "climate of ethical judgment" — to the demands of 20th-century ideas about consciousness and time. After writing the Children of Violence series (1952-1959), Lessing broke new ground with "The Golden Notebook (1962), a daring narrative experiment in which the multiple selves of a contemporary woman are rendered in profound detail. Lessing has also written several works of nonfiction, including "Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 and "Walking in the Shade: 1949 to 1962.

Review:

"[A] shimmering, solidly wrought, deeply felt portrait of a divorced 'earth' mother and her passel of teenage live-ins....While the last section lacks the intimate presence of long-suffering Frances, the novel is weightily molded by Lessing's rich life experience and comes to a momentous conclusion." Publishers Weekly

Review:

"Lessing?s most engrossing novel in many years." London Times Literary Supplement

Review:

"The dream of a perfect society is the ironic center of Lessing's absorbing new novel..." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"[I]rresistibly alluring. The book summons us to continue reading; we follow it faithfully and, at the end, discover that it does not conclude neatly....Only when it is past do we realize that this has been one of Lessing's most generous works." Penelope Mesic, Book Magazine

Review:

"A great story with a Dickensian cast of memorable characters." Evening Standard

Review:

"[Lessing's] acute political and artistic awareness makes her vision of our time rich and almost always freshly perceptive." The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

Synopsis:

Frances Lennox ladles out dinner every night to the motley, exuberant, youthful crew assembled around her hospitable tableher two sons and their friends, girlfriends, ex-friends, and ftesh-off-the-street friends. It's the early 1960s and certainly "everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." Except financial circumstances demand that Frances and her sons Eve with her proper ex-mother-in-law. And her ex-husband, Comrade Johnny, has just dumped his second wife's problem child at Frances's feet. And the world's political landscape has suddenly become surreal beyond imagination....

Set against the backdrop of the decade that changed the world forever, The Sweetest Dream is a riveting look at a group of people who dared to dream-and faced the inevitable cleanup afterward — from one of the greatest writers of our time.

Synopsis:

Frances Lennox stands at her stove, bringing another feast to readiness before ladling it out to the youthful crew assembled around her hospitable table — her two sons and their friends, girlfriends, ex-friends, and new friends fresh off the street. It's London in the 1960s and everything is being challenged and changed.

But what is being tolerated? Comrade Johnny delivers political tirades, then laps up the adolescent adulation before disappearing into the night to evade the clutches of his responsibilities. Johnny's mother funds all but finds she can embrace only one lost little girl — Sylvia, who leaves for a South African village dying of AIDS.

These are the people dreaming the sixties into being and who, on the morning after, woke to find they were the ones taxed with cleaning up and making good.

About the Author

Doris Lessing was born to British parents in Persia in 1919 and moved with her family to Southern Rhodesia when she was five years old. She went to England in 1949 and has lived there ever since. She is the author of more than thirty books--novels, short stories, reportage, poems, and plays--and is considered among the most important writers of the postwar era. Her most recent works include two volumes of autobiography, Under My Skin and Walking in the Shade, and a novel, Mara and Dann.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780060937553
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Lessing, Doris May
Author:
Lessing, Doris
Author:
by Doris Lessing
Author:
Doris
Author:
Lessing
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Mothers and daughters
Subject:
British
Subject:
Domestic fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st paperback ed.
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
December 2002
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
496
Dimensions:
8.01x5.28x.92 in. .85 lbs.

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Sweetest Dream Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.50 In Stock
Product details 496 pages Perennial (HarperCollins) - English 9780060937553 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[A] shimmering, solidly wrought, deeply felt portrait of a divorced 'earth' mother and her passel of teenage live-ins....While the last section lacks the intimate presence of long-suffering Frances, the novel is weightily molded by Lessing's rich life experience and comes to a momentous conclusion."
"Review" by , "Lessing?s most engrossing novel in many years."
"Review" by , "The dream of a perfect society is the ironic center of Lessing's absorbing new novel..."
"Review" by , "[I]rresistibly alluring. The book summons us to continue reading; we follow it faithfully and, at the end, discover that it does not conclude neatly....Only when it is past do we realize that this has been one of Lessing's most generous works."
"Review" by , "A great story with a Dickensian cast of memorable characters."
"Review" by , "[Lessing's] acute political and artistic awareness makes her vision of our time rich and almost always freshly perceptive."
"Synopsis" by , Frances Lennox ladles out dinner every night to the motley, exuberant, youthful crew assembled around her hospitable tableher two sons and their friends, girlfriends, ex-friends, and ftesh-off-the-street friends. It's the early 1960s and certainly "everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." Except financial circumstances demand that Frances and her sons Eve with her proper ex-mother-in-law. And her ex-husband, Comrade Johnny, has just dumped his second wife's problem child at Frances's feet. And the world's political landscape has suddenly become surreal beyond imagination....

Set against the backdrop of the decade that changed the world forever, The Sweetest Dream is a riveting look at a group of people who dared to dream-and faced the inevitable cleanup afterward — from one of the greatest writers of our time.

"Synopsis" by , Frances Lennox stands at her stove, bringing another feast to readiness before ladling it out to the youthful crew assembled around her hospitable table — her two sons and their friends, girlfriends, ex-friends, and new friends fresh off the street. It's London in the 1960s and everything is being challenged and changed.

But what is being tolerated? Comrade Johnny delivers political tirades, then laps up the adolescent adulation before disappearing into the night to evade the clutches of his responsibilities. Johnny's mother funds all but finds she can embrace only one lost little girl — Sylvia, who leaves for a South African village dying of AIDS.

These are the people dreaming the sixties into being and who, on the morning after, woke to find they were the ones taxed with cleaning up and making good.

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