Doris Lessing’s debut novel is set in Southern Africa, where she herself grew up. It bears similarities to the relationship between her parents. The book follows the life of Mary Turner, a white city girl, up to her murder by her black servant.
The murder is announced on top of the first page, and from there the background to it unfolds.Mary lives in the city; she has a desk job and often goes out with her many friends. She is a popular girl but as the years go by her friends start to marry off and eventually she’s the only single person left, and people start to talk about her behind her back. There is a turn of events when Mary happens to overhear her friends discussing the fact that she isn’t married yet. After this, she starts to think more and more about what it would be like to have someone to share her life with and ends up marrying a man she doesn’t really love.
Her new husband, Richard, is a poor, white farmer living in the middle of nowhere. Mary soon becomes apathetic. She rarely sees her husband, who is always outside working, and when they are together she doesn’t let him near her.
She longs back to the city and ever tries to run away, but when she returns to the city she realizes how much things have changed and that she can never get back to her old life. She is unsure of how to treat her husband’s black workers, whom she seems to think are the scum of the earth, and once in a fit of rage hits a man with her whip. He is big and strong and instantly.