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80 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the Amazing Notes
The Golden Notebook is Lessing's most well known of her works and with good reason. It is an incredibly complex and layered work that addresses such ideas as authorship of one's life, the political climate of the 60s and the power relation between the sexes. It would be nave to consider this novel as just a feminist polemic. I know many people have read it only this way...
Published on 14 Nov 2002 by Eric Anderson

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74 of 84 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Call me a philistine.
Call me a philistine, but I cannot understand why this monumental and self-indulgent book, first published in 1962, is said to be one the great classics of the 20th century.

It charts the life of Anna Wulf, a writer. Although every page is very well written and the many characters are well individualized, I have found this quite a difficult read. The...
Published on 8 Feb 2008 by Ralph Blumenau


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80 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the Amazing Notes, 14 Nov 2002
By 
Eric Anderson (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The Golden Notebook is Lessing's most well known of her works and with good reason. It is an incredibly complex and layered work that addresses such ideas as authorship of one's life, the political climate of the 60s and the power relation between the sexes. It would be nave to consider this novel as just a feminist polemic. I know many people have read it only this way or not read it because they assume it is only this. Lessing articulates this point well in her introduction. The novel inhabits many worlds of thought. It just so happens that at the time of its publication it was a very poignant work for feminism. More than any book I know it has the deepest and longest meditation on what it means to split your identity into categories because you can not conceive of yourself as whole in the present climate of society and in viewing your own interactions with people. This obsession with constructing a comprehensive sense of identity leads to an infinite fictionalisation of the protagonist's life. Consider the following passage "I looked at her, and thought: That's my child, my flesh and blood. But I couldn't feel it. She said again: 'Play, mummy.' I moved wooden bricks for a house, but like a machine. Making myself perform every movement. I could see myself sitting on the floor, the picture of a 'young mother playing with her little girl.' Like a film shot, or a photograph." She can't attach her own vision of herself to the reality of her life. The two are separated by the ideologies of society which influence her own vision of who she should be.
This novel also captures the political climate of the era, a state of post-war disillusionment with the available models political ideology. They recognise the need for some kind of change, but are unable to envision a model that will work. Opinion is split into infinite personal categories of what government should become. Unfortunately, for all these good things which this novel intelligently discusses, it also has its own shortcomings that the reader should be aware of. Its representation of homosexuality is very limited. It has the unfortunate tendency to envision homosexuality as an idea of being rather than an actual state of being. No doubt, this was influenced at the time it was written by the meaning of being 'a gay' as being strongly attached to one's political position. The state of being a homosexual is inextricably attached to the misogynist vision of what femininity should be when it is actually something a bit more complex than that. Though Lessing is able to see through many misconceptions of her era such as the hypocritical actions of people who claimed to be fighting against racism while reinforcing racial divisions, the novel falls a bit short in other areas. Nevertheless, this doesn't prevent it from being a very powerful and enjoyable novel to read.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only connect ..., 29 Dec 2006
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As Doris Lessing discusses in her own introduction (new for this edition), her best-known and best-selling novel has been viewed as being "about" various things: the battle of the sexes and man's inhumanity to woman; mental health; the difficulties facing left-wing politics following the failure and collapse of communism. As she herself points out, there is a definite irony in this, given that her central theme and premise was the need to see things as a whole and avoid compartmentalising different aspects of our lives (love life, family life, political life, work life etc. etc.). This remains a startling idea: what Lessing is essentially saying is that it is just this sort of compartmentalising that allows an otherwise kind character to be a shameless racist (there is a prominent example in the Black Notebook), or an operative of a totalitarian regime to commit acts of genocide then go home to a peaceful family dinner.

At the novel's opening, the life of Lessing's central character - (ex-)novelist Anna Wulf - seems hopelessly fragmented. Afflicted by writer's block, Anna pours the narrative of the various traumas of her life into four quite separate compartments: the Black Notebook relates to her "work life" as a writer; the Red Notebook her "political life" as a lapsed and disillusioned member of the British Communist party; the Yellow Notebook her (lightly fictionalised) love life; and the Blue Notebook her everyday existence. In all four areas, things grow increasingly desperate until Anna's mental health seems in serious question. However, it is only after what amounts to a "breakdown" followed by re-synthesis of her life as a whole in the eponymous Golden Notebook that Anna can really achieve mental and moral wellbeing.

It is a startlingly honest book, particularly for its time, and it is easy to empathise with Anna's plight. Lessing writes beautifully (particularly in the dark-hued and intensely nostalgic African sections of the Black Notebook), and throws off ideas and philosophical digressions like fireworks.

The book has undoubtedly dated a little, particularly in the ever-thorny area of sexuality and gender politics. As noted by another reviewer below, Anna's attitude to her gay lodgers is a tad dubious: it's fair enough to criticise them for being bitchy and misogynistic (they are!), but surely not for failing to be "Real Men"? Similarly, Anna not infrequently expresses (via her fictional alter ego in the Yellow Notebook) a somewhat unreconstructed craving to be sexually "Swept Away" by a "Real Man" (whatever one of those is) - while she clearly doesn't mean some sort of macho schmuck, this does jar a little nowadays. In part this is connected to Lessing's fascination at the time with a rather mystical version of Jungian psychoanalytical theory, with its ideas of "animus and anima": this was very trendy at the time (it crops up in the writing of Robertson Davies and Iris Murdoch, for instance) but seems less relevant nowadays. It is also worth remembering that Lessing was writing in the very early Sixties, well before the days of Shere Hite and Nancy Friday, and that her views on sex and sexuality were in fact very progressive and unexpectedly honest for the book's era. The novel's central theme (the need to live life as a whole) remains startling and compelling, and overall there is no question that this is a five-star read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive and enlightening, but often frustrating modern classic, 27 Sep 2010
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Few literary works of the last 50 years have been discussed in the detail that Doris Lessing's 'The Golden Notebook' has. The narrative, centered around the self-conscious Anna Wulf, the writer of one successful novel, but a woman struggling to keep her composure, and even sanity, in an unforgiving modern world, is one of the best literary examinations of the individual in transition (and teetering on collapse). The novel splits itself between Anna's four notebooks, which in turn deal with her writing life/her emotional life/her political life/everday events in her life. These sections, whilst all different, slowly bring together a coherent picture of Anna in all the spheres of her life, as lover, mother, radical left-wing activist, and other things. The form of the notebooks is a masterstroke in the novel, as they work as both a compact record of an element of Anna's life and its changes, but also a place for the novel's protagonist to reflect on herself. The novel's other sections, (outside of the 'Golden Notebook' itself - too full of spoilers to be discussed in detail), the five part 'Free Women' sections deal with Anna's struggle, in the present, to deal with her fiercely independent friend Molly, her maturing daughter Janet, and other issues.

As a document of the '60s, where philosophy, politics and the ideal of 'free love' were in full flow in London, the novel is priceless; as is its evocation of the communist life in both Rhodesia and Britain itself. In fact, further than that, most of the novel's sections are impressive - even Anna's 'everyday' section of the notebook, shows in fascinating detail a woman grappling with the major questions of her age, and of the freedom of women in modern western society. The novel is undoubtedly heavy-going at times, and certain issues in Anna's life are stretched too far by Lessing, to the point that the novel becomes boring and repetitive at points. Equally, her encounters with certain characters such as Molly's husband Richard, seem to be more diatribes from the author than an attempt to show human relationships. These sections are worth bearing with for some of the superbly insightful sections in the book; and ultimately, for the brilliant amalgamation of the notebooks which is the 'Golden Notebook' itself.

Lessing's novel is considered as one of the classic works of its era, and rightly so. Despite often being heavy going, sometimes frustrating, and too often overclouded by polemic viewpoints, this is a fascinating portrayal of the struggle for women in '60s Britain to assert their place, to understand their emotions and convictions, and to try to change themselves and the world around them a little for the better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love it or hate it..., 4 Feb 2009
It's interesting to read other people's reactions to this novel, as I think that you could either love it or hate it. I enjoyed this book and would have given it five stars if it was not so tiresome in parts, particularly towards the end and in describing the dream sequences which did become a little repetitive and dull to me. Overall though, I found the book to be truthful, very ahead of the times, acutely and often painfully honest, and ultimately clever. The messages that come out are often political, feminist (though not always), emotional, humanitarian, and ironic. I think as a female I was able to identify parts of myself in Anna, and I think that many others can as well to a certain extent. The way in which it becomes evident that Anna is entrapped in a vicious cycle (vis-a-vis her relationships with men), is not in my perception a feminist ploy to portray all men as womenisers, and to pigeon hole them as being unemotional, cold and cheating, but rather just the accurate story of a woman who perceives certain men this way through her own encounters and experiences. She is unconsciously drawn to these men, and consciously knows the relationship is doomed from the start whilst praying it would last, as if she is somehow subconsciously comforted by the controlling aspect of the cycle (since she is unable to control her true art as she has writer's block). There is also however a more collective emotional theme running through the book, revolving around the need to be and feel loved/needed by someone. We can see this evident in not only the character of Anna, but also Marion, Tommy, Richard, Molly (at the end), the cheating men (in their unhappy marriages), the women who write to Dr West...etc. This again goes against the sense of the book being solely a feminist/political novel.

Ultimately I do think that despite the heftiness and the (v few) disjointed parts, this book is well worth reading by anyone, however I would recommend having a completely open mind before commencing it (untainted by the opinions of other reviewers). In my opinion, it is simply a brilliant, powerful, and seemingly timeless novel of great importance.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to admire, difficult to warm to., 10 Aug 2012
As an experiment in form, temporality, and methods of narration, The Golden Notebook is strangely ahead of it's time. Postmodernism stressed the overlaps and gaps of how we experience life; of repetition and collage. Lessing's novel does all of this. The moments of the novel that I found most telling are when the protagonist Anna meets up with film and television producers to discuss having her novel made into a film or a teleplay. Anna's novel, itself a rendering of her own experiences, clearly holds some value to her. She entertains the producers who wish to censor and debase her book in order to render it palatable to the masses, but always with the knowledge that she has no intention of selling the rights to the novel. These moments capture in miniature what Lessing's novel is about- adaptation, how we shift and alter things depending on audiences, on perspective (granted by time, new knowledge, even a shift of temperament), or according to the form we are writing or performing for.

That said, Lessing's novel, in it's shifts in time and story levels, becomes such a task to navigate that it can become a chore to actually warm to the character or her stories. I felt at moments as if I should take notes and make everything into a chart to comprehend it all. As an experiment I would love to see the novel broken up into the separate notebooks, rendered in scribbled handwriting and newspaper clips and crossings out. It could be a most beautiful thing that portrays just how disjointed and eclectic this text is.

It was also intriguing to read a novel that portrays women of the 1940's and 1950's that are so conscious of the political arena - who participate in it, even if some of their participation comes across at times as contrarian or wholly blind. It is a much more gripping look at women as friends and sexual beings, in comparison to works of nostalgia that would have us believe that women didn't gain political awareness and a backbone until the 1970's.
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74 of 84 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Call me a philistine., 8 Feb 2008
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Call me a philistine, but I cannot understand why this monumental and self-indulgent book, first published in 1962, is said to be one the great classics of the 20th century.

It charts the life of Anna Wulf, a writer. Although every page is very well written and the many characters are well individualized, I have found this quite a difficult read. The chapters in this massive tome are enormously long, with few natural breaks: at times there are whole pages between paragraphs.

And the structure of the book is, I think, excessively complex. Anna is a divorcee with a little daughter; her friend Molly is a divorcee with a grown-up son. Their story is told in five instalments. Both women are ex-communists; both believe themselves to be `Free Women'.

The tile `Free Women' is certainly an ironical title as far as Anna is concerned, since her `freedom' brings her the most painful turmoil of emotions. After having been aware for a long time about the darker, crueller, more dishonest side of communism, she has, with a great psychological effort, `freed' herself from membership of the Party, but the wrench has left her in an aching vacuum, as well as haunted by the terrors and threats to human existence that are conveyed in the daily newspapers from which she obsessively collects clippings.

Worse: she feels `free' to engage in new sexual relationships with a series of men, but she is tormented in each of these relationships, to which she gives herself with more commitment than is felt by the men. She becomes increasingly damaged, veering backwards and forwards from love to hate, self-lacerating, driven towards total disintegration.

Between each instalment called `Free Women' are the contents of four notebooks which Anna is keeping: one black, one red, one yellow, one blue, each kept for a different purpose.

The black notebook relates to a successful book which Anna has already written and published, and which fictionalized her experiences in war-time Rhodesia. That book was about Communism, racism, and dominant-submissive relationships in a group of air force pilots stationed there.

The red notebook is about Anna's post-war experiences as a member of the Communist Party back in Britain. She was fully aware of the unacceptable side of Stalinist communism, even while she remained a member. Anyone who was a communist or a fellow-traveller in the forties and fifties will recognize the atmosphere.

Anna is struggling with a writer's block, but is trying to write another novel, dealing with the more painful parts of her life. The yellow notebook is part of this novel (and notes thereon) which describes the relationship of Ella (who is really Anna), a divorcee, with a doctor called Paul. (Sometimes the same characters, like Anna's ex-husband, are called by different names in the different parts of the book. In addition, the Paul in the yellow notebook is not the same person as the Paul in the black notebook.) Here (and later in the blue notebook) Doris Lessing records ever more minutely the relationship between the woman and the man: they vary often from moment to moment, from one conversational exchange to the next. These are very well done and at enormous length, but ultimately they are as exhausting for this reader as they must have been to the characters.

In the blue notebook Anna records her real life, part of which is the material for the yellow notebook. Most painful is the relationship with her last lover, Saul Green, an American ex-communist, who was himself a horrendously fractured personality: the schizophrenia of each of them reinforces that of the other.

And the new golden notebook at the end, which, the blurb says, `brings the strands of her life together and holds the key to her recovery'? Personally, I can't see any difference between the madness of that book and the madness which pervaded the end of the blue note book; and as for any recovery .... well, perhaps exhausted as I was, I'm afraid I just didn't get it. Dense of me, no doubt. But was I glad I had come to the end!

I have enjoyed some of Doris Lessing's books (The Sweetest Dream, The Grandmothers, The Good Terrorist) a great deal more than this one.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too difficult, 29 April 2010
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Wasted on me. Im sure its brilliant but I tried to read it in my teens and failed and now some thirty five years later the book did not hold my attention either
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex and Quietly Absorbing..., 3 April 2009
By 
LittleMoon (loving my life in the rain) - See all my reviews
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One of the most illuminating additions to this edition of the novel is its introduction: two introductions in fact, each written by Lessing in 1971 and 1993 respectively. The inclusion of an author's thoughts on their own work is always fascinating. That Lessing imagined her own central theme as being about breaking down, in her own words: "when people "crack up" it is a way of self-healing, of the inner self's dismissing false dichotomies and divisions", is an excellent example of how the writer loses control over their text once it is let loose in the public imagination.

Whilst it most certainly is a novel about breaking down, it is also a novel that engages with political, sociological and personal landscapes. The scope of the book, in terms of content, is immense: the decadent life in Africa around the beginning of WWII; a growing disillusionment with communism; life and politics in 1950s Britain; women and love, sex, work, motherhood, men; psychoanalysis; writer's block... the list is almost endless. It feels like numerous novels worked into one encyclopaedic whole, and I'm convinced that Lessing has succeeded in filling one of the "blank spaces where novels ought to be".

The structure of the novel is no less extravagant than its subject matter - and make no mistake, this is a firmly post-modern novel, experimenting with juxtapositions of form and content, and exhibiting a subtle self-awareness. You might need to keep a notebook yourself. However, the sections aren't random, and can be followed easily enough providing you keep your brain in gear...

And that's the reality of reading this novel. It's a novel that demands the reader's full attention, and it's most certainly a novel that demands more than one reading. This isn't popular throwaway fiction, it's a literary tour de force, and as a reader you are required to bring along thought and effort. This is a novel that takes time to make an impact; a novel that only starts working long after other novels have been forgotten; a beautiful and carefully written novel that gets its hooks into you in a singularly complex and quietly absorbing way.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not for the casual reader, 3 Mar 2009
By 
L. J. Stroud "leelaloo" (Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I could hardly put it down, but I'm under no illusion...

Don't read this book unless you are interested in: feminist literature, mental breakdown, social and personal entropy, freudian philosophy, the creative process, the aristic crisis, the communist experience in the west, the artist as ethnographer, the need to love and be loved and human ability to repeat the same mistakes (again and again and again).
Don't read this book if you aren't able (or willing) to examine art within it's cultural and historical context.
And whatever you do don't read this book if you want a nice story with a straight forward message.
Otherwise its a very rewarding and engaging read that makes you wonder if you too could help push a boulder.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Eight carat, 26 May 2010
Like having a depressed, middle class friend sitting in their new conservatory and rambling on at you for hours about how awful they think their life is, 576 pages in the company of Anna Wulf was about 500 too many. On the one hand I wanted to be empathetic and not denigrate her personal unhappiness but on the other was the irrepressible desire to shout "Arrrggg!!!, just cheer the hell up". Whilst there is undoubtedly good writing here and striking characterisation (were men really this obnoxious in the 1950s?) my sympathy and interest rapidly dribbled away. Despite it's vast length I found its world too claustrophobically narrow. The supporting cast of indolent, disaffected communists and intellectuals began to grate early on as the working classes and black Africans hovered in the background trying not to get into the way of all that profound misery. I'm afraid I had to make my excuses and leave early.
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The Golden Notebook
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
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