The Good Terrorist

by Doris Lessing

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

The Good Terrorist focuses on the lives of a loosely knit group of vagabonds and would-be terrorists who share a commune in contemporary London. As the novel opens, the members of the group set out to make their newfound “squat” habitable and to keep it from demolition. Their first task is to restore the plumbing and to dispose of the many buckets of excrement which have accumulated in the eight months since the house was condemned and its lavatories were filled with cement. As the novel ends, several months later, the group has dispersed; those still left in the commune go their separate ways following (despite their bungling) a successful car bombing which kills five people, including one of their own.

The leaders of the commune belong to a small splinter group, the Communist Centre Union (CCU), which seems to embrace all the popular causes and seeks alliance with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Clearly amateurs, they drift from one abandoned house to the next, living off their unemployment checks, occasionally spending a day demonstrating as if on holiday, or calling a late-night meeting to plot future protest activities. Though they yearn to be arrested so they may be taken seriously as terrorists, in fact they prove themselves to be quite incompetent and harmless until the tragic ending.

During most of the novel, the group’s political agenda occupies far less of their time and attention than the more mundane tasks of fixing the house, foraging for money, and working through their complex relationships with one another. The stakes begin to rise, however, as the “real” terrorists next door take an interest in some of their activities. These shadowy figures are led by a Comrade Andrew, who pretends to be an American but looks like Vladimir Ilich Lenin (at least according to Alice). When he disappears, two former members of his household join the commune and persuade the others to help them build bombs according to a terrorist manual. After a disappointing practice run which causes little damage and is blamed on hooligans, they pick their target— the busy street in front of a fancy hotel during rush hour. This time they succeed, in spite of an apparent malfunction in the timing mechanism. The public is outraged at the monstrous murder of innocent people and blames the IRA because of an anonymous phone call actually made by Alice. The IRA denies any involvement and vows revenge on the group which perpetrated such a heinous act in its name. Ironically, the CCU has now earned the enmity of the very revolutionaries it had hoped to impress.

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