Under my Skin, the first volume of Doris Lessing's account of her own life, has already established itself as one of the great modern autobiographies. Walking in the Shade covers the years 1949 to 1962, from Lessing's arrival in London with her son, Peter, and the manuscript of her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, under her arm to the publication of her most famous work of fiction, The Golden Notebook.
Having left behind her childhood home in Africa, the thirty-year-old Lessing enters a drab, poor, bomb-damaged, war-weary London to begin a new chapter in her life. This was the period of the Cold War, a poisonously political time, but Doris Lessing reminds us - in perhaps the book's most striking achievement - of what has been forgotten: that it was a time also of idealism and hope, of a sense of personal responsibility for the world, and of generosity of the imagination. She describes how communism dominated the intellectual life of the 1950s - it is hard now to appreciate how much - and how she, like nearly all communists, became disillusioned with extreme and rhetorical politics and left communism behind.
Walking in the Shade also evokes the bohemian days of a young writer and single mother in 1950s London: her early success as one of the new hopeful postwar writers whose novels and short stories received critical acclaim both in Britain and abroad; her work in the theater where she befriended Kenneth Tynan, John Osborne, Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, and Arnold Wesker; her political activities through which she met such opinion makers of the time as E.P. Thompson, Bertrand Russell, and Henry Kissinger; and her romantic liaisons with men on the left.
Walking in the Shade ends in the winter of 1962-63. By this time, London - indeed Britain and all of Europe - had been rebuilt from ruins and poverty to newness and plenty. To the author it seemed that her life correspondingly climbed up from difficulty and dark.
Full of Lessing's strong and exceedingly direct thinking about love, money, politics, and people, Walking in the Shade re-creates the chaotic way we all experience our lives, and the fragmentary nature of memory. It is an invaluable social history as well as Doris Lessing's Sentimental Education.