"I was born with skins too few. Or they were scrubbed off me by . . . robust and efficient hands."
This, the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography, begins with her childhood in Africa and ends on her arrival in London in 1949 with the typescript of her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, in her suitcase.
The book is distinctive, as challenging and as wholly original as anything Doris Lessing has ever written. It recalls her own mind as a child, and the life of a child, with almost overwhelming immediacy, mapping the growth first of her consciousness, then, in adolescence, of her sexuality, and later, as a young woman, of her political beliefs. The African landscape (described with great lyricism), her often angry and combative relationship with her parents, her intense awareness of her own body, her passionate involvement with other people and indeed with everything around her are all here very, very powerfully present. The force of these memories, and the detail which which she is able to recall them, bear comparison only with Gosses Father and Son.
There can be few modern autobiographies so revealing of the mind of their creator. Under My Skin shows a woman uncompromising, from the beginning, in every aspect, who breaks all the rules, who battles at every turn against her upbringing and environment, who looks on the world clear and hard; and yet who also displays a softness, a wonderful sense of humor, a compassion for human failure.
Though she does not describe the process directly, it is abundantly evident to the reader how her childhood and adolescent experiences were absorbed through those "skins too few" and how they made the personality that has produced the novels and stories which began with The Grass is Singing and ended (for the moment) with The Fifth Child. Under My Skin shows - among many other things - how completely the life and work of one of the great writers of the twentieth century are of a single and indestructible piece.