Doris Lessing's new novel - which she defines as inner space fiction - is an incomparably exciting voyage into 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 reined stone city, participates - moon-dazed - in bloody rituals in the paradisiacal 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 as firmly rooted in the reality of a mental breakdown as De Quinceys fantasies were in the chemistry of opium. Watkins is a patient of Central Intake Hospital, an enigma to the doctors who try with ever more powerful drugs to subdue his minds adventure, a candidate for electric shock treatment. In a series of extraordinary letters - brilliantly illuminating both the writers and their subject - Watkins is reconstructed by those who have known him: the forgotten women who have loved him, or been awakened by him; the pendant, incensed by his intellectual anarchy; the wartime colleague around whose exploits with the Yugoslav partisans Watkins builds an astonishing fantasy.
Doris Lessing believes that society's treatment of the mentally ill is civilizations 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.