LONDON — Doris Lessing emerged from a black cab outside her home in London one day in 2007 and was confronted by a horde of reporters.
When told she had won the Nobel Prize, she blinked and retorted “Oh Christ! … I couldn’t care less.”
That was typical of the independent – and often irascible – author who died Sunday after a long career that included “The Golden Notebook,” a 1962 novel that made her an icon of the women’s movement.
Lessing’s books reflected her own improbable journey across the former British Empire, and later her vision of a future ravaged by atomic warfare.
The exact cause of Lessing’s death at her home in London was not immediately disclosed, and her family requested privacy. She was 94.
Lessing explored topics ranging from colonial Africa to dystopian Britain, from the mystery of being female to the unknown worlds of science fiction.
In awarding her the Nobel literature prize, the Swedish Academy praised Lessing for her “skepticism, fire and visionary power.”
The often-polarizing Lessing never saved her fire for the page. The targets of her vocal ire in recent years included former President George W. Bush – “a world calamity” – and modern women – “smug, self-righteous.”
She also raised hackles by deeming the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States “not that terrible.”
She remains best known for “The Golden Notebook,” in which heroine Anna Wulf uses four notebooks to bring together the separate parts of her disintegrating life.
The novel covers a range of previously unmentionable female conditions – menstruation, orgasms and frigidity – and made Lessing an icon for women’s liberation.
But it became so widely talked about and dissected that she later referred to it as a “failure” and “an albatross.”
Published in Britain in 1962, the book did not make it to France or Germany for 14 years because it was considered too inflammatory. When it was republished in China in 1993, 80,000 copies sold out in two days.
“It took realism apart from the inside,” said Lorna Sage, an academic who knew Lessing since the 1970s. “Lessing threw over the conventions she grew up in to stage a kind of breakdown – to celebrate disintegration as the representative experience of a generation.”
Although she continued to publish at least one book every two years, she received little attention for her later works and was often criticized as didactic and impenetrable.
Lessing was 88 when she won the Nobel literature prize, making her the oldest recipient of the award.