Customer Review

37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only connect ..., 29 Dec. 2006
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Golden Notebook (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in


Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 31 May 2012 14:29:39 BDT
Eileen Shaw says:
Superb reviewing. Lessing is a patchy writer. This is the book where she comes closest to using her strong literary gifts with courageous truth and honesty. Every woman should read this book.
‹ Previous 1 Next ›

Review Details


3.3 out of 5 stars (58 customer reviews)
5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:
1 star:
Used & New from: £0.01
Add to wishlist

Location: Glasgow

Top Reviewer Ranking: 121,373