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Customer Review

on 14 November 2002
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 naïve 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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