Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing

Anna Wulf is a Londoner, the author of one fairly successful novel (but who cannot or will not write another book), a divorcee, the mother of a little girl, a Communist, and with her friend Molly a "free woman."  "Free Women" is the title of one section of the narrative, in which Anna's story is told in a more-or-less straightforward manner. The other sections of the narrative are based on the four notebooks that Anna keeps as part of her writing process--the black notebook includes accounts of Anna's life in Southern Rhodesia prior to and during World War II (on which her novel was based); the red notebook recounts her experiences as a member of the Communist Party; the yellow notebook is the text of a novel she is writing, a fictionalized account of an unhappy love affair; and the blue notebook is a conglomeration of notes, dreams, and reflections. At the end of the book, she attempts to bring her writings and her life together in the golden notebook.

The Golden Notebook deals with topics that were not generally spoken of in 1962 when it was published--women's sexuality and menstruation to name just few. While Anna's sexual freedom might lead one to label the book an early feminist novel, I think this would be a mistake, because despite being sexually liberated and a Communist, many of Anna's ideas and habits are in act quite conservative. She hangs a great deal of her mental and emotional health on having a relationship with a man, plays a secondary role in the relationships that seem most important to her, and disdains her homosexual lodgers.

I have read comments from numerous women saying that The Golden Notebook was an important book in their lives. Perhaps because I am reading the book at such a remove from when it was written, I found myself unmoved. I did appreciate the innovative structure, but the actual golden notebook, which I was anticipating would reveal  Anna to some kind of remarkable insight, was disappointing and even confusing. Nonetheless, I feel I am probably not doing The Golden Notebook justice, so I'll include this link to a series of brief reflections on the novel printed to mark its 50th anniversary:

Favorite passage:
I am a person who continually destroys the possibilities of a future because of the numbers of alternative viewpoints I can focus on the present.

No comments:

Post a Comment