We'd do well to read, or re-read, this literary masterpiece by Doris Lessing which dissects for us the common-place, undramatic way in which many people in our Western society can get involved with terrorism. At the same time, the novel is a criticsm, full of irony and subtlety, of the hypocrisy and lack of values of western middle classes . In my opinion, this novel is far more scary than reading a black and white view of society, something Doris Lessing certainly never does here, since it is the blurry quality of grey what makes us confused when we have to judge.
Alice Mellings, the main charater of this novel, has all the qualifications for being the perfect middle-class home-maker: she cleans, decorates, cooks, and in general takes care of housekeeping and looks after her people. In the first of the great ironies of the book, though, Alice is not a middle-class housewife, but someone who "rebelled" against her middle class family in her youth by becoming a squatter, and is still trying to determine just the exact meaning of that. The people Alice looks after in such a motherly way are a group of squatters, mainly people who have abhorred their middle-class roots and have failed to find their place in the London society of the day. The house Alice tries to make into a nice, cozy home for all of them is an old, abandoned house where they are illegally living.
From the point of view of the protagonist, Alice, we follow the dozens of small problems and mishaps she has to overcome in order to reach her goal of creating a comfortable home for "her people". We follow her when she goes to her despised middle-class mother's house and steals money (an important source of income) or she speaks with the city council authorities to have electricity or water at home. We see these home-making activities are all-important in her aimless life, while she pays little attention to politics as they are discussed by the people who live with her.
These people vow to make revolution against capitalism (most of them, but especially the most rabid of these characters -I won't say more or it would be a spoiler- come from well-off families) and eventually begin to talk of aiding the IRA in their terrorist actions in London (the novel was written in the eighties...). Again, ironically, we know nothing of Alice's political opininos. In fact, she doesn't seem to be interested in politics at all. She is just "Anti-system", without knowing very well what it means, but, anyhow, her comrades seem to be very sure about it so she goes along with them....And thus, though passively, Alice is finally involved in the terror these people create in London.
What is masterly in this novel is the concept that terrorism, although obviously a political weapon, must rely in the actions of persons. That these persons, involved in terrorist actions, are certainly not good citizens or exemplary members of society, but usually psychollogical misfits who, once having found the explanation for their particular grudge and the easy justification for violence that extremist ideologies provide , are impossible to control.
But the best concept in the novel is that it shows how what we consider the best elements in our society (from the very home-making impulses of the protagonist to the idealization of youthful rebelliousness, to the "democratic" way in which the squatters' home is ruled, to the altruistic ideals the squatters seem to share...)are ironically being handled in a context and situation far from what we would consider idealistic. And we see how these very western concepts can ultimately be used against our society when they are not backed by human values. When abstract words such as "system" "capitalism" "socialism" "class struggle" "revolution" and many others (that, in the case of these novel, the characters manipulate without knowing very well what they mean), are seen as more important than the single, objective concept "human being", our best values are lost. Our society is creating monsters. And no matter how much we repeat that the threat of terror comes from outside. Ideas might come from outside, and that cannot be stopped....but the terror is inside. Doris Lessing helps to make us aware of this.