"Alfred and Emily" is a 2008 work by Doris Lessing. It is actually two works in one volume. The first is a fictionalized biography of her parents in an alternative history where World War I was never fought. The second and longer part of the work is a series of autobiographical vignettes of Lessing's youth growing up in what was then the colony of Rhodesia.
As with some other Nobel Prize winners, Doris Lessing's status as a Nobel Prize winner and otherwise legendary author was somewhat of an obstacle while reading this book. From what I have picked up in cursory other readings, Lessing was everything from a Sufi mystic to a communist and a feminist during her long and storied career. Which made much of "Alfred and Emily" somewhat of a surprise. It is an Edwardian tale, telling in simple prose the lives of the English middle class in a sedate world where World War I never happened. The autobiographical sections, while giving some interesting information about life in colonial Southern Africa, are mostly the type of coming of age stories that anyone might write.
There are two things that still make this an important book. For one, Lessing published this book at the age of 89, so it is to be expected that her writing might have become more sedate. But beyond points for participation, Lessing was one of the last writers who could remember and write about the 1920s and 1930s, one of the last writers who had even second-hand experience of the generation that fought in the first World War. She received her Nobel Prize in 2007, at a time when much of the literary community was already starting to forget World War II and midcentury. So this book is important as a last monument and testament to the literary generation that helped define the 21st century. And I think that makes this work, seemingly slight, an important literary work.