The Diaries of Jane Somers, first published pseudonymously and separately as The Diary of a Good Neighbour and If The Old Could, appear here in one volume for the first time under Doris Lessing's name, together with a new preface by the author. While marking a return to the most realistic subject matter of Doris Lessing's early fiction, they are also a provocative new departure.
At the centre of both novels is attractive, intelligent magazine editor Jane Somers, whose wry perception informs and animates every page. Jane was an ambitious journalist concerned with success, clothes and comfort when her life changed. Her husband died, then her mother. Suddenly understanding her real inadequacy, Jane becomes deeply committed to the very old and deprived, making particular friends with one old woman, Maudie, whose life has been all struggle and poverty.
The contrast between these two lives produces the framework for a difficult growth towards self-knowledge. At the end of The Diary of a Good Neighbour the future is hinted at when Jill, a clever hard girl, as Jane once was, moves into her flat and takes over her life, Jane understands young people as little as she did so recently the old.
If the Old Could, Jane falls seriously in love for the first time in her life. By now, she is in her fifties. So is Richard Curtis, who loves her. Both are weighed down with responsibilities which are always preventing them from enjoying each other. But with whom is Jane really in love? Who really is she longing for if not her dead husband, whom she did not value at all when he was alive? This new lover is the old one in disguise, just as bright ambitious Jill is Jane when young. Jane seems surrounded - like the very old - by mirrors, by echoes.
Who, then, in this gallery of mirrors is niece Kate, with whom Jane is landed by a process of emotional logic which she understands very well? This all-competent woman cannot begin to cope with the poor helpless Kate: they are opposites, extremes - or so it seems.