Briefing for a descent into hell – Doris Lessing

An exploration of the mind of the ‘mad’. Charles Watkins, a professor at Cambridge suffers a mental breakdown and finds himself in hospital; but he can’t name himself or tell how he got there. A series of letters written by the doctors, who put Watkins of increasingly strong medicines and controversial treatments, and Watkins’s relatives and friends unravels the story of how he arrived at the hospital – alongside this enlightening narrative, we find ourselves inside Watkins’s mind as he sails the shores of the Atlantic, finds a lost city and witnesses a war, and eventually is absorbed into the Crystal, a bright light being which spins him out of himself and into space. In the cosmos he envisages an interplanetary meeting, set up to stop the doomed population of Earth from killing their planet by their on stupidity.

I found the novel fascinating, especially the portrayal of Watkins’s mind and his fantasies; they beg the question, how can we ever know what is real?!, and the stories he unfolds are striking, stunning, horrible at times but always truly fantastic.


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