Give me a pill to make me sleep

I am not going to recommend Doris Lessing’s 1971 Briefing For a Descent Into Hell, to anyone, ever, probably, or at least not without a word of warning. I liked it, I’m impressed by it, and moved, it’s one of the strangest novels I’ve read in a while, but it’s not the sort of book you just hand to someone, “here, read this!” It was only the quality of the writing that carried me through the uneventful first third, and I was beginning to worry that it would all be nothing more than this: a mildly peculiar journey made by a madman in his own mind while undergoing psychiatric treatment. And then it transforms into a mystical experience that combines ancient mythology, science fiction and pantheistic ecology. It’s kind of the written equivalent to prog, which is another reason not to recommend it: people have mixed feelings about that sort of thing. Now I like prog, in small doses, and I also like this novel. Lessing is ambitious, but her ambition is matched by her skill. And if I ever go on a cosmic journey to find my true self, I’d want Doris Lessing to document it with her beautiful, hypnotic writing. But I’ll respect your decision to stay at home, (you brainwashed materialist zombie!) Now where did I put those Eloy records?

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