Briefing for a Descent Into Hell
Doris Lessing's new novel - which she defines as 'inner space fiction' - is an incomparably exciting voyage into the the marvellous, terrifying, ... Show synopsis Doris Lessing's new novel - which she defines as 'inner space fiction' - is an incomparably exciting voyage into the the marvellous, terrifying, unexplored, yet sometimes glimpsed territory of the inner man. Professor Charles Watkins (Classics), doomed to spin endlessly in the currents of the Atlantic, makes a landfall at last on a tropical shore. He discovers a ruined stone city, participates - moon-dazed - in bloody rituals in the paradisical forest, witnesses the savage war of the Rat-dogs and is borne on the back of the lordly White Bird across the sea of the dead. Finally, the Crystal claims him, whirling him out into space on a breathtaking cosmic journey. Yet this most exotic of trips is firmly rootedin the reality of a mental breakdown as De Quincey's fantasies were in the chemistry of opium. Watkins is a patient of Central Intake Hosptial, an enigma to the doctors who try with ever more powerful drugs to subdue his mind's adventure, a candidate for electric shock treatment. In a series of extraordinary letters - brilliantly illuminating both on the writers and their subject - Watkins is reconstructed by those who have know him: the forgotten women who have loved him; the pedant, incensed by his intellectual anarchy; the wartime colleague around whose exploits with the Yugoslavian partisans Watkins builds an astonishing fantasy. Doris Lessing believes that society's treatment of the mentally ill is civilisation's biggest and blackest blind spot, and that it is through the minds of the 'broken-down' that truths we choose to shut out enter like the disguised messengers in myths and fairy tales. Developing themes central to The Golden Notebook and The Four Gated City, this book is her most astounding imaginative achievement - a rare work which explores new areas of thought.