Women in love

<strong>The Cleft</strong>

Doris Lessing <em>Fourth Estate, 288pp, £16.99</em>

The Cleft rewrites the story of creation through the eyes of a Roman senator. Embarking upon his last ever endeavour, this aged historian must make sense of ancient tales, written in a language only recently deciphered, in order to piece together the very beginnings of the human race.

Doris Lessing asks us to imagine the Clefts, a primitive community of women who live in a coastal wilderness, free from the need, knowledge or complication of men. The Clefts exist in harmony: impregnated by the tides of the moon and bearing only female children, they are spared the implications of gender that permeate modern existence. But one day a "Monster", a male, is born and the onset of sexual intrigue brings untold problems as restlessness, curiosity and jealousy upturn this sleepy community.

In this fable, Lessing satirises the unchanging behavioural patterns of men and women. When the primitive sexes integrate, the women cannot comprehend the carelessness of the men who

"don’t listen"; the men in turn are aggravated by the women who "nag, chide and are critical". But despite the eternal complaints of each gender, neither can exist alone. Lessing’s engaging tale is told with the simplicity of an aural history committed to memory.