The Golden Notebook (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) Paperback – 18 Jun 2007
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‘This ambitious novel has no equal.’ Guardian
‘At the beginning of the Sixties, this vast, frank, complicated novel helped to sustain our reputation for courageous, ambitious, experimental writing. Soon a worldwide bestseller, it is still Lessing’s finest work. “The Golden Notebook” captured the heady mix of the early Sixties, when not just novels but political certainties were dissolving. The rising feminist movement seized it as a Bible.’ Mail on Sunday
‘Her greatest work…Shows the power of the female imagination at full throttle. It doesn't bear a simple political message but it does rip off the masks that women were accustomed to wearing, and it shows up the dangers and difficulties that women encounter if they try to live a free life in a man's world…A landmark novel, a book that both changed and explained a generation…One of the finest writers of the century.’ Independent
‘Doris Lessing is a pioneer of feminist self-consciousness in its raw state…The truths contained in “The Golden Notebook” are indeed harsh. It can also be said that these particular truths have not been examined in so rigorous and exemplary a fashion since the first appearance of this extraordinary book. A seminal work.’ Anita Brookner, LRB
‘“The Golden Notebook” is the diary of a writer in shock, a young woman determined to forge a life as a “free woman”, as an “intellectual”. Doris Lessing is a writer of considerable power, someone who can close her eyes and “give” a situation by the sheer force of her emotional energy.’ Joan Didion, New York Times
From the Back Cover
Anna Wulf is a young novelist with writer’s block. Divorced, with a young child, and disillusioned by unsatisfactory relationships, she feels her life is falling apart. In fear of madness, she records her experiences in four coloured notebooks. The black notebook addresses her problems as a writer; the red her political life; the yellow her relationships and emotions; and the blue becomes a diary of everyday events. But it is the fifth notebook – the Golden Notebook – which is the key to her recovery and renaissance.
Bold and illuminating, fusing sex, politics, madness and motherhood, The Golden Notebook is at once a wry and perceptive portrait of the intellectual and moral climate of the 1950s – a society on the brink of feminism – and a powerful and revealing account of a woman searching for her own personal and political identity.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product description
Top customer reviews
The novel is structured into third person narration sections called "Free Women": it is the late 1950s and old friends Anna and Molly, both middle aged single parents with a history in the Communist Party, have lengthy "intellectual" discussions with each other about the current states of their lives. In later sections some dramatic action does occur, in a stagey sort of way.
But the real meat of the book is in the Notebooks which come between these sections. They've been written by Anna over a long period and provide lengthy glosses, reinterpretations and bits of background to the "current" events of the Free Women sections. It is in the fragmented and self-referential stories which emerge (slowly, over the course of the novel) in the notebooks that the structure and cleverness of The Golden Notebook reveals itself.
Lessing explicitly places herself in the tradition Thomas Mann and the big discursive novel of ideas. Her language is often dated and stagy, the dialogue is more in the form of political debate than naturalistic speech and (with the exception of the flashback to Africa), there is little sensuality (you don't get a sense of place, images and sense impressions are few and far between - it really is very cerebral). But her structure is clever, and she uses it very well to construct an impression of Anna's fractured state of mind, and the fractured state of the world she's living in.
Anna is a complex figure, demonstrated by her keeping of four notebooks that compartmentalise her life into sections, without giving too much away, four divisions divided along emotional and rational interactions with people and the world around her. She has previously written a bestselling novel, which pays for her modest but not breakdown existence. Molly, by contrast, survives by taking acting jobs.
The bulk of book lays the groundwork for Anna's later challenges, giving a some detailed causes for her later thoughts and attitudes. This foundation is immensely detailed and enjoyable, with Anna's own book and earlier life in Africa intersecting the reality of the 'now' Anna. These underlayers of the book - bursting with characters and situations that are immensely colourful - contrast with the sparse, grey world of the now narrative. They are the highlight of the book.
There are other diversions, such as the seemingly tragic trajectory of Molly's son and her former husband's new wife. Anna's own domestic situation is also a choppy sea. As a male reader there were genuine insights into the differing challenges that face women who have chosen to be 'free' especially when compared to the seemingly free and easy globetrotting and be shopping. As a male reader, also, the portrayal of men as misogynist, philandering, unfaithful rakes became quite tiresome as the book wore on. The issues, attitudes and stereotypes were possibly more relevant and recognisable at the time the book was written; hopefully things have moved on.
The Golden Notebook is a fascinating read in terms of narrative structure, and some of the character development and description are deep and vivid, especially the Africa period. For this reader, however, the book lost its way in the same way as the character of Anna Wulf.
But this book left me cold and I abandoned it after the first few pages of the first notebook. Judging from the comments, I made a wise choice.
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