In The Good Terrorist, Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing provides a chilling portrait of seemingly ordinary British citizens who form a small terrorist cell. The plot revolves around Alice Mellings, a middle-aged woman who organizes a squat from a soon-to-be-condemned home in order to house a group of IRA sympathizers.
Alice, who comes from the privileged middle-class background that so disgusts her now, has to learn how to reconcile her upbringing with her Communist beliefs, in addition to having to come to terms with the aftermath of the terrorist acts that she and her group plot out during the course of the novel. Lessing deftly illustrates the struggle of a woman who seems to be a good person at heart yet is capable of committing unspeakable acts upon her fellow citizens.
Lessing explores Mellings’ childhood and her strained relationships with both of her parents in her adulthood, things that shape her Communist leanings and lead to her involvement with a fringe terrorist group. Mellings’ boyfriend, Jasper, is a fellow IRA sympathizer and Communist who doesn’t seem to love her at all, yet compels her to follow him in his quest to become part of a large-scale organization.
Within their squat, people come and go, some of whom are completely likeable and some who are not. But once the final group is assembled within the squat and everything clicks into place, the group’s plan to commit one single, horrific act that will get them in the news begins to take shape.
What is so eerie about this novel is how ordinary the domestic life is inside this squat. The group sits together, as a family over meals and tea. They work hard to find furniture and other items that they need to set up the household, Alice working the hardest among them to make things nice and homey. The squat sees its share of tragedies and deals as a team with constant attention by neighbors and the police. To outsiders, they seem perfectly innocuous; Alice is particularly skilled in making things seem that way.
Lessing makes most of the people in this group seem approachable. Alice is even neighborly, which creates a struggle for the reader, who cannot in good conscience like any of these characters. But Lessing shows that while each of these individuals are terrorists, they are also very human. This is a striking and fascinating examination of the inner sanctum of a small terrorist group and the ideologies that make them believe that what they are doing is for the greater good.