This short novel is about stoicism in the face of disaster, and also about the nature of representation. It is told from the p.o.v. of a member of a simple agrarian race under the tutelage of the wise, all-knowing Canopeans, and the crisis of faith they pass through when their mentors and protectors cannot save them from planetary catastrophe. Lessing keeps the prose simple, thus giving it all the more impact. At the end, when the few survivors of Planet 8 undergo a form of transcendence to become Representatives, the simplicity is almost heart-breaking. Lessing appends an afterword about an all-female Antarctic expedition that was her inspiration.
The novel was later adapted into an opera by Philip Glass. That is also stunning.
Strangely, I have found this novel significant in developing my own thinking about the nature of representative democracy. I don’t think that was Lessing’s intention, though.