The Good Terrorist represents a shift in Lessing’s work away from her later quasi-mystical science fiction to the realism of earlier novels such as the “Children of Violence” series (1952-1969). Lessing’s realistic novels and short stories are filled with characters—usually women—who do not have the strength of personality or intelligence to break out of the drab, monotonous existences that threaten to smother them. Alice Mellings may be Lessing’s most pessimistic portrait of a woman who is victimized not only by society’s expectations for her but also by her own stupidity.
The novel also reflects Lessing’s increasing pessimism about the possibility of making the world a better place. The young writer who came to London from Rhodesia hoping to find less prejudice and exploitation has long been disabused of any faith in the future. Many of Lessing’s critics complain about her drab and graceless prose and the almost awkward attention to detail. There are some, however, who see such a style as appropriate to the grim reality she seeks to portray and praise her ability to force the reader to attend to her themes rather than to her words. There is little disagreement about the distance Lessing establishes between narrator and character; readers are discouraged from developing any sympathy for Alice Mellings and her friends. The Good Terrorist is not a novel to love; rather, it represents an interesting stage in the work of this prolific and controversial writer. It remains to be seen whether Lessing will return to science fiction out of sheer despair at the world she knows at first hand, or whether she will continue to play the prophet of doom.