on 22 February 2005
This is the first book by Doris Lessing that I've read, and it is a real gem. It contains 60+ pieces written since the 1970s, with book reviews, introductions to new editions of classics by the 'greats' like Jane Austen & D H Lawrence, pieces about less well-known writers who she champions (A E Coppard, Nirad Chaudhuri, etc) journalism pieces, including a recent excellent article about Zimbabwe from the 'NY Review of Books', and a great deal (for the first time?) about aspects of her interest in Sufism and her involvement with the teacher Idries Shah. Her keen & crystalline intelligence, clarity of thought, and a humane sensitivity and feeling for all the people who she writes about - from famous writers to ordinary people living in difficult circumstances - meant that I loved reading this book. It opened up all kinds of new territories for me - in literature and in life. I've already bought one book by one of the less well-known writers she reviews here. You'll do the same if you read this book!
on 10 March 2015
Universally enjoyed by our book group. This collection of essays has something for everybody, from the book lover, to the cat owner, to those interested in modern politics in Africa. Lessing's writing is excellent and her style engaging. Highly recommended.
Books you read at a certain time in your life are books which explain yourself to you. I feel this way about Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, a book that I read and then re-read straight away, so entranced was I by the explanation it gave me about why my life was like it was. Not that the book worked its magic with polemic or essays, such as the ones collected together here, but because of the way it made me think in a new way about myself and my world. It's thick, dense, allusive and creative prose amazed and provoked and delighted me and I've read almost everything she's written, though The Golden Notebook is the book I would put highest among life-changing works of my era. It is often seen to be a feminist book, but in my mind it is more of a humanist book and its feminist elements are the opposite of strident or accusatory. If you want accusatory feminism, read The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer - which certainly has its place as a revelation.
In this book there is a collection of writings and reviews, a few essays on Sufism included as well. Lessing has adopted the cause of Idries Shah, though one shouldn't think it has dampened her clear-eyed and expressive delivery of other ideas. I am unable to take seriously any spiritual belief which proceeds by way of parable - which pretty much cuts out all world religions. As well believe in Tarot cards or Madame Blavatsky. For me there is an emptiness in parables - something that nudges you in the ribs and says, there - get it do you? Of course I do - and so what?
So - Idries Shah apart - there isn't much to laugh at in this book. Why buy essays these days anyway? It's a dead art except for students, when it means a difference in degree result. Well, perversely enough, I do like to read essays, but these are slighter pieces than I was expecting, but the most interesting ones are about books. Stendhal's The Red and the Black, Richardson's Clarrissa, Olive Schreiner's An African Farm, Niccolo Tucci's Before My Time. Her writing, at its best, is never pretentious or overblown, but plain, strong, the opposite of condescending and both worldly and wise.