Tom Avery On:
Through the Tunnel by Doris Lessing
Doris Lessing was always able to get to the very heart of things. She was a novelist and short story writer of astonishing ability and limitless empathy – one who confronted and interrogated the injustice, racism and hypocrisy of a troubled era with imagination and force. ‘There is no doubt that fiction makes a better job of the truth’, as she put it in Under My Skin. Each of her works repay repeated readings, and resist easy categorisation. Each has a life and energy of its own. She was a titan of twentieth century literature, but would have been the last to acknowledge it. She greeted the news of her Nobel win in 2007 with ‘Oh Christ’.
‘Through the Tunnel’ was first published by the New Yorker in 1955 (five years after the appearance of her first novel), and was later collected in a now-lost anthology that was given to me when I was about eleven. It’s hard to overstate the impact it had.
It is a near-perfect example of a short story in my opinion, a virtuoso marriage of plot (try not to read it in one go) and prose. It is a story that displays in miniature all of Lessing’s remarkable gifts: a strange and superlative mixture of glittering surface and dizzying depths. It’s a story of growing-up (perhaps the story of growing up), of change and transformation, of human fragility, of bravery, of patience and persistence, and of loss: of the strange currents we’re pulled into by grief, and the terrible pressures we all-too-often place on ourselves. It’s a breathtaking work of fiction, and the perfect introduction to a ‘storyteller’, as she so humbly described herself in her Nobel acceptance speech, and one of the very best.