151 of 167 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the Amazing Notes
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...
Published on March 27, 2001 by Eric Anderson
114 of 130 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting mess of a novel
Intellectual energy is always a healthy attribute for a writer of fiction. Doris Lessing, an incredibly prolific author who has covered many different genres, has plenty; but her early novel "The Golden Notebook" too often sacrifices coherence and focus for ineffective artistic experimentation. That it doesn't have much of a plot is not a deficiency, because many great...
Published on June 23, 2005 by A.J.
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151 of 167 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the Amazing Notes,
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.
114 of 130 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting mess of a novel,
Intellectual energy is always a healthy attribute for a writer of fiction. Doris Lessing, an incredibly prolific author who has covered many different genres, has plenty; but her early novel "The Golden Notebook" too often sacrifices coherence and focus for ineffective artistic experimentation. That it doesn't have much of a plot is not a deficiency, because many great modern novels have discarded the notion of a necessity for a conventional plot; rather, its narrative power is diminished by Lessing's apparent indecisiveness about the kind of tale she wishes to tell. In one section she writes synopses of about two dozen short stories in quick succession, and we have to wonder why we're looking at blueprints instead of the finished product.
Summarily, "The Golden Notebook" is a work of fiction about the erratic process of writing fiction, and it problematically attempts to intertwine several novels into one. The main story is that of Lessing's alter ego Anna Wulf, who compiles her memoirs, blending the real with the fictional, into four color-coded notebooks of which the contents are revealed in an alternating fashion. Anna, a rising literary star who has published an acclaimed novel called "Frontiers of War" based loosely on her experiences and her circle of friends in Rhodesia where she lived during World War II, now resides in England with her young daughter Janet, drawing income from gradually dwindling royalties while being courted by philistine film producers who propose to adapt and warp her novel for the screen.
Love and sexuality play major roles throughout the multiple narratives, but "The Golden Notebook" is neither sentimental enough to be a romantic novel nor cynical enough to be a satire. Anna's relationships with a string of men, from her ex-husband Max, a German refugee whom she met in Africa, to an aimless American expatriate named Saul, are the basis of her fictional life; she has created an alter ego of her own named Ella, a struggling novelist who has numerous affairs almost exclusively with married men, to be used possibly as the heroine of a new novel. She can be maternal as well, not just to her daughter but also to her older friend Molly's son Tommy, a restless and discontented youth who is forced to endure the physical aftermath of a botched suicide attempt.
A central feature of "The Golden Notebook" is the changing course of Anna's political outlook which begins in Rhodesia. Her abhorrence of the "color bar"--the racist policies of white European colonists towards blacks--in southern Africa and her observations of the poverty of the workers steered her towards Communism. As it turns out, the British Communists with whom she associates are a muddled and disorganized group, inveterate liars and prevaricators with utopian delusions; but Anna's eventual decision to leave them arises more from her disenchantment with their attitude that art should be used only for political purposes and not to express personal ideas or emotions. This is anathema to a creative writer such as Anna, as it should be; "The Golden Notebook" is Lessing's defiant response to that dictum.
Were I to describe "The Golden Notebook" accurately as remarkably original, uniquely structured, overflowing with a multitude of literary thoughts, and driven by fascinating impulses, you might think it a book worth reading; but in fact I hesitate to recommend it to anybody but an avowed Lessing fan. When Saul asks Anna why she keeps four separate notebooks, she answers that "...it's been necessary to split [her]self up," and therein lies the trouble--the reader is made to suffer for Anna's narrative schizophrenia. I am unsure whether "The Golden Notebook," so energetic but so disjointed, is too much or not enough of whatever it is that it wants to be, but it is definitely not the correct amount.
58 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book. Let it change you.,
Future generations will call this the most important novel of the 20th century, or at least they should, for this is the book that expresses the major themes of the world in that century. What we now call gender issues (now there's a broad label!) occupy a major portion of the novel, but it is just as much a picture of the Fear of humanity during the Cold War times, when every day we were 30 minutes from doomsday. It is about racism and colonialism and the fading of empire; it is about the breakdown of society in the technological age; it is about single mothers; it is about mental states and breakdowns. It is about Communism, and have we not heard the 20th century called the Age of Communism? All this is not what makes this a great novel. Each time I've reread it, the more it seemed I could almost put my finger on something-a question of identity, or what it means to be human. "Breakdown" is a word appearing throughout the novel-by the end, it almost seems to mean "break through": break through the rhetoric, break through the categories. The Golden Notebook speaks to deep emotions-something there is that needs to shine through, to grow, to love and to be loved. This novel reached down to that. It is sometimes painful, sometimes provoking a fear/hate reaction, or a feeling of dislocation. This is the kind of book that you often have to slap down on the table, pace the room, and work off the tension that has built. Doris Lessing wrote once that she considered this novel something of a failure, for it only names the issues, exploring briefly, but not solving. I can see what she means-this is a novel that forces the reader to wrestle with themselves as much as the characters. This is why some people read the novel and yawn, and why some read the novel and are profoundly changed. One must be at a crossroads, unsettled. Read this book. Let it change you.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Complex and Intense: Lessing's Ulysses,
This review is from: The Golden Notebook (Perennial Classics) (Paperback)
The Golden Notebook (1962) was Doris Lessing's most complex work. It is generally hailed as a pioneering novel on male-female relationships and places her among the great writers of novels. It uses overlapping stories, each slightly similar to the prior, starting with a fictional writer Anna Wulf, her story, and the stories she writes.
Doris Lessing (1919 - ) is the 2007 Nobel Prize winner in literature. She has a score of novels and many other works. The three novels including The Golden Notebook (1957), her first novel The Grass is Singing (1950), and The Summer Before The Dark (1973) are considered to be her representative works. I read those three.
In many ways the novel is incoherent, and it takes some patience to read all 634 pages. I had to take one break after page 200. It was all a bit too intense. She uses a complex narrative technique to outline three or four different main stories featuring different sets of characters. Some characters or similar characters appear in many pieces, i.e.: a character Ellen in one story is similar to Anna in another. There must be at least 100 stories, some very short.
The central protagonist is a writer, Anna Wulf, and she draws on five notebooks for her story about Africa, politics and the communist party, her relationship to men and sex, The chaotic and disjointed form of the novel is supposed to reflect Anna's mind. As pointed out by other critics, there is no "single perspective from which to capture the entirety of her life experience."
As I post this review, I have read three of Lessing's novels from three different time periods in her career and have taken out another four from a library which I am in the process of reading. This is her main work - of her 30 or 40 longer works - and it contains the strong feminine perspectives, dialogues, analysis, and commentary that is associated with Lessing. One could say that these are the trademark writing styles of Lessing. I bought this novel and it has an excellent introduction by Lessing.
Having read The Grass is Singing (1950), her very first novel, I found that the present novel is far more complex. The Golden Notebook is a series of stories within a story and it is 600 pages long.
I liked the book and would recommend it. It is not a simple read. It took me a week to read it and I could not read it in one go. The Summer Before the Dark is a much easier read and can be read in an evening or so and contains some similar ideas. But to get a full appreciation of Lessing, one must read the present novel.
I have never read anything similar, and the novel must place Lessing among the geat writers of novels.
34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The insufferable Anna Wulf,
Like many other reviewers, I struggled with this book. For more than 600 pages, Anna Wulf explores every thought and emotion that comes into her head and tries to make sense out of her life. This might be an interesting book for fiction writers, who might understand the elaborate process Anna goes through to create characters and combine her life with her art. But for the average reader, this is just too much and too long.
I am very patient with novels. Perhaps too patient, because I should have put this one down sooner. I got all the way to page 500 before I realized I just couldn't go on. And it's quite depressing to invest so much time in a book and then put it down. Doris Lessing says herself that no one should force themselves to read a book they are not connecting with. I should have taken her advice sooner. But while some books you might not just be 'ready' for, I don't think I will ever be ready for this one.
It's disappointing because I am a Doris Lessing fan. The Four-Gated City explores many of the same themes - an emotional breakdown can be constructive in order to build yourself back up whole and understand the world around you. Anna Wulf did have a fragmented mind, as demonstrated through her keeping of four separate notebooks. She was kept together by the routines of her life, such as making breakfast for her daughter. When she didn't have anything constructive to do, she thought herself to death. And if you read this book, you'll likely be right there with her - going crazy.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Golden Notebook,
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I belong to a book group of highly literate, intelligent older women, some of whom are themselves writers and teachers, all with strong social and cultural concerns. Though a few of us had read some Doris Lessing years ago when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature we decided to read and discuss one of her works. It was my month to lead the discussion and I selected her most well known work, The Golden Notebook.
After reading about sixty pages of this 640 page volume, I knew that I being the leader would probably be the only one of the dozen members of our group who would plow through to the end. Lessing is a fine writer, her descriptions make things come alive, her sensitivity to the terrible social injustices in Africa, the arrogance of the young, and the atrocities of the group think of Communism are extremely well portrayed, but the complete self absorption and lack of compassion or caring for any individual other than herself, becomes extremely tiring and truly boring, to the point that I wanted to shout--"Come on, get a life." I too, was a thinking adult in 1962 (the date of the books original publication), and yes, there was horrific social and racial injustice, terrible selfishness and stultifying patriarchal and cultural stratification, in many places there still is, but everyone else in this world is not all bad. Please, please, please show some humanity. Have you no sympathy, no empathy? Sexual liberation is one thing, but emotional balance is lacking. Love in this book is only gratification of one's own desire. Maybe this is the point of the novel. To show the basic self absorption of someone who is trying to buck the system. To show the evils of the world. After all, Lessing wrote that true art was to expose the depths of pain. Perhaps. But I believe there is something to be said for art that uncovers beauty in a broken world.
In this work Anna, the protagonist, wrote her different colored Notebooks to demonstrate the fragmentation of her life. But her inability to get beyond herself did not hold my interest or empathy and though I agree that Lessing is extremely talented and obviously dedicated to creating literature to depict the way she knows the world, I am saddened that hers is one of cynicism despair. In this novel the gift of golden notebook at the end seems contrived and unconvincing. If life to Lessing means nihilistic terror into nothingness, she has captured it in her art.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Energetic & Most Sincere,
This was my first Lessing fiction and it's a true inspiration. The notebooks and short story are well-paced well retaining consistent stylistics of the writer 'Anna'. I particularly enjoy the short story and the yellow notebook, which imitates the short story. Lessing writes with such honesty it forces you to read with honesty as well while reflecting on similar situations in your own life.
This book reminds me of a few short stories/novellas by Marguerite Duras - a delightful connection.
I recommend reading Lessing's introduction before attacking the novel itself. It is insightful and intelligent, pushing you to ask questions heuristically.
Also, I recommend trying to finish the novel between 1-2 weeks to keep the momentum and intensity of the notebooks.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anna Wulf is my anti-heroine!,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Golden Notebook (Paperback)
The Golden Notebook is brilliant. Lessing does an amazing job of holding many strands together. Apparently she wrote it exactly as is published--page after page rather than completing the "notebooks" and short novel separately and spliting them into final form later. I must admit that one notebook did give me a bit of grief until I caught on to Lessing's plan, but it was well worth it--especially for the last 80 pages or so.
The author decries the labelling of her book as being about the "sexual war" between men and women. I agree. Far more is contained here. Lessing addresses everything: the political, the social, the personal, sanity, insanity, truth, the sexual, the notion of accepting any experience for the sake of just that--experience. And of trying to keep oneself "whole" when fragmenting is the only protection against the pain of living. But how can one justify avoiding the pain of life when she subscribes to "experience of all" as self-education? Maybe the answer is the meaning of life.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant but flawed study in irony and self-indulgence,
This is as much a period piece as, say, a Jane Austen novel. The characters in this novel are filled with self-pity and remorse, but this appears to be a function of the time in which they are living. For many the post-war (that is, World War II) era was fraught with anxiety and introspection, to the exclusion of joy and humor and mysticism. The bitter ennui of the characters in this novel borders on the amusing, much like present-day 20-year-olds attempting to appear world-weary and all-knowing. (Never mind that young people who are truly all-knowing and world-weary are not sardonic or ironic, but bitter and dangerous). Every other gesture, smile, or grimace in this novel is "ironic", and characters can seemingly intuit the motives of others through every gesture, tic, and change of facial expression. The influence of Freud is strongly felt.
The characters in this novel are largely amoral, and see no causal connection between their actions and the torpor and dissatisfaction of their lives. Yet, from the perspective of 21st Century morality (contradictory as that term may seem) it will be evident to even the casual, cynical reader that the amorality of their thoughts and the immorality of their actions lead directly to their dissatisfaction and that of those around them. They are nothing if not entirely self-indulgent. It seems that the main character, Anna Wulf, never sleeps with any but married men, and then wonders why her affairs end in recrimination and blame. Which is not to exonerate the men she beds; their cruelty and unthinking malice toward Anna and their wives is inexcusable. But as this novel focuses almost exclusively on the feelings and reactions of women, it is the outcomes of their actions which truly matter here, and those actions contain within them the seeds of their own destruction. No doubt the frank talk of sexuality and (briefly) menstruation were quite daring in 1962. Yet from the context of our current era, this knowledge is commonplace and therefore overdone.
Which is not to say that this is not a brilliant piece of writing by an enormously talented writer. Lessing has captured the tenor of the times with great skill. And, much like watching a train wreck unfold, there is a certain grim fascination in seeing Anna's self-destruction (and eventual though minor redemption) come to fruition. But at over 600 pages, it is a large dose of bitterness to swallow. Rumor has it that "The Summer Before the Dark" is a much more accessible book, and perhaps that is the right place to begin for a taste of Doris Lessing. But many consider "The Golden Notebook" her masterwork, and to say one has truly read Lessing is to have read this one. God help you.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Call me a philistine ...,
Call me a philistine, but I cannot understand why this monumental and self-indulgent book, first published in 1962, is said to be one the great classics of the 20th century.
It charts the life of Anna Wulf, a writer. Although every page is very well written and the many characters are well individualized, I have found this quite a difficult read. The chapters in this massive tome are enormously long, with few natural breaks: at times there are whole pages between paragraphs.
And the structure of the book is, I think, excessively complex. Anna is a divorcee with a little daughter; her friend Molly is a divorcee with a grown-up son. Their story is told in five instalments. Both women are ex-communists; both believe themselves to be `Free Women'.
The tile `Free Women' is certainly an ironical title as far as Anna is concerned, since her `freedom' brings her the most painful turmoil of emotions. After having been aware for a long time about the darker, crueller, more dishonest side of communism, she has, with a great psychological effort, `freed' herself from membership of the Party, but the wrench has left her in an aching vacuum, as well as haunted by the terrors and threats to human existence that are conveyed in the daily newspapers from which she obsessively collects clippings.
Worse: she feels `free' to engage in new sexual relationships with a series of men, but she is tormented in each of these relationships, to which she gives herself with more commitment than is felt by the men. She becomes increasingly damaged, veering backwards and forwards from love to hate, self-lacerating, driven towards total disintegration.
Between each instalment called `Free Women' are the contents of four notebooks which Anna is keeping: one black, one red, one yellow, one blue, each kept for a different purpose.
The black notebook relates to a successful book which Anna has already written and published, and which fictionalized her experiences in war-time Rhodesia. That book was about Communism, racism, and dominant-submissive relationships in a group of air force pilots stationed there.
The red notebook is about Anna's post-war experiences as a member of the Communist Party back in Britain. She was fully aware of the unacceptable side of Stalinist communism, even while she remained a member. Anyone who was a communist or a fellow-traveller in the forties and fifties will recognize the atmosphere.
Anna is struggling with a writer's block, but is trying to write another novel, dealing with the more painful parts of her life. The yellow notebook is part of this novel (and notes thereon) which describes the relationship of Ella (who is really Anna), a divorcee, with a doctor called Paul. (Sometimes the same characters, like Anna's ex-husband, are called by different names in the different parts of the book. In addition, the Paul in the yellow notebook is not the same person as the Paul in the black notebook.) Here (and later in the blue notebook) Doris Lessing records ever more minutely the relationship between the woman and the man: they vary often from moment to moment, from one conversational exchange to the next. These are very well done and at enormous length, but ultimately they are as exhausting for this reader as they must have been to the characters.
In the blue notebook Anna records her real life, part of which is the material for the yellow notebook. Most painful is the relationship with her last lover, Saul Green, an American ex-communist, who was himself a horrendously fractured personality: the schizophrenia of each of them reinforces that of the other.
And the new golden notebook at the end, which, the blurb says, `brings the strands of her life together and holds the key to her recovery'? Personally, I can't see any difference between the madness of that book and the madness which pervaded the end of the blue note book; and as for any recovery .... well, perhaps exhausted as I was, I'm afraid I just didn't get it. Dense of me, no doubt. But was I glad I had come to the end!
I have enjoyed some of Doris Lessing's books (The Sweetest Dream, The Grandmothers, The Good Terrorist) a great deal more than this one.
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The Golden Notebook: A Novel by Doris Lessing (Paperback - October 14, 2008)