Reading a Nobel Prize… If the Old Could of Doris Lessing

I have always had a reverential fear of reading Nobel Prize winners in literature. This year it happened that my husband arrived with a pink book titled in Italian “Se gioventù sapesse” and for curiosity I started to read it immediately. I heard about the very famous writer Doris Lessing. I didn’t know she was a Nobel Prize. I knew she was a very productive writer and that she use a pseudonym character. For a while I was disappointed because this book, whose original title is “If the old could” (those who know Italian will be puzzled about this curious translation), is another part of the more famous “The Diaries of Jane Somers”. 

From the first few lines, however, I was literally trapped in the story of the woman called “Janna”. 

This is the pink cover by the way. There is an hourglass on it. It’s true, time is one of the protagonists of this deep and very direct book. I would compare this novel with a train, or a metro or a bus. It passes and there are people getting in, getting off, an environment all around, directions, one way and back and the the time that passes inexorably. 

The time because Janna is not young anymore, the time because her husband died after 10 years of a love story without love and children. The time because Janna suddenly falls in love again of a man who doesn’t have time at the end but he will continuously want time from her. 

The story develops in less than a year, summer, autumn and winter. London is the heart of a new love born in a ordinary morning between two adult people whose lives would have been a continuous movement but which movement stops as soon as they find the opportunity to meet and simply speak. 

Just a kiss, once. A demure kiss. Long walks, drinks and meals in typical British pubs, just one time, a tentative approach ended with nothing. 

It’s not easy to speak about the only book I read of a write who was born in 1919 in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) – British colony and died in 2013 with 94 years old. 

She wrote all along her life. She wrote for vocation, for rebellion and she defended her being woman in a society of masculinism.

In 2007 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.



What I did in front of a Nobel Prize was to enter immediately in empathy with her, with the writer who is the same protagonist of course: Jane Somers. Like a friend I read her words and sometimes I gave her my suggestions and opinions. Of course, she’s so determined that at the end she ends up doing what she wants. In the bad and in the good. Richard is the love she waited all life but for herself she’s more than all, London is her “home”, everything can cross her universe but being a woman makes her remain the pillar of the entire structure of her life. 

The rest can go and come, like taking a train, a bus, a tube… walking across seasons… “If the old could” is not the end for me, this is for sure, just give the time to find more books and start from the first one. I know I know… never read before the “after” book but it happened… What could I do?

Enjoy watching my book trailer 

If the Old Could of Doris Lessing

Article written by Erika Gerardini, JUMP Team


Erika Gerardini JUMP Association



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