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The Golden Notebook: Perennial Classics edition Paperback


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Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (February 3, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006093140X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931407
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Much to its author's chagrin, The Golden Notebook instantly became a staple of the feminist movement when it was published in 1962. Doris Lessing's novel deconstructs the life of Anna Wulf, a sometime-Communist and a deeply leftist writer living in postwar London with her small daughter. Anna is battling writer's block, and, it often seems, the damaging chaos of life itself. The elements that made the book remarkable when it first appeared--extremely candid sexual and psychological descriptions of its characters and a fractured, postmodern structure--are no longer shocking. Nevertheless, The Golden Notebook has retained a great deal of power, chiefly due to its often brutal honesty and the sheer variation and sweep of its prose.

This largely autobiographical work comprises Anna's four notebooks: "a black notebook which is to do with Anna Wulf the writer; a red notebook concerned with politics; a yellow notebook, in which I make stories out of my experience; and a blue notebook which tries to be a diary." In a brilliant act of verisimilitude, Lessing alternates between these notebooks instead of presenting each one whole, also weaving in a novel called Free Women, which views Anna's life from the omniscient narrator's point of view. As the novel draws to a close, Anna, in the midst of a breakdown, abandons her dependence on compartmentalization and writes the single golden notebook of the title.

In tracking Anna's psychological movements--her recollections of her years in Africa, her relationship with her best friend, Molly, her travails with men, her disillusionment with the Party, the tidal pull of motherhood--Lessing pinpoints the pulse of a generation of women who were waiting to see what their postwar hopes would bring them. What arrived was unprecedented freedom, but with that freedom came unprecedented confusion. Lessing herself said in a 1994 interview: "I say fiction is better than telling the truth. Because the point about life is that it's a mess, isn't it? It hasn't got any shape except for you're born and you die."

The Golden Notebook suffers from certain weaknesses, among them giving rather simplistic, overblown illustrations to the phrase "a good man is hard to find" in the form of an endless parade of weak, selfish men. But it still has the capacity to fill emotional voids with the great rushes of feeling it details. Perhaps this is because it embodies one of Anna's own revelations: "I've been forced to acknowledge that the flashes of genuine art are all out of deep, suddenly stark, undisguiseable private emotion. Even in translation there is no mistaking these lightning flashes of genuine personal feeling." It seems that Lessing, like Anna when she decides to abandon her notebooks for the single, golden one, attempted to put all of herself in one book. --Melanie Rehak

Review

"No ordinary work of fiction...The technique, in a word, is brilliant." -- -- Saturday Review

"The Golden Notebook is Doris Lessing's most important work and has left its mark upon the ideas and feelings of a whole generation of women." -- Elizabeth Hardwick, New York Times Book Review

"No ordinary work of fiction...The technique, in a word, is brilliant." -- -- Saturday Review

"The most absorbing and exciting piece of new fiction I have read in a decades; it moves with the beat of our time, and it is true." -- -- Irving Howe, New Republic


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Customer Reviews

All the characters seemed much of a muchness.
Judith C. Kinney
It uses overlapping stories, each slightly similar to the prior, starting with a fictional writer Anna Wulf, her story, and the stories she writes.
J. Robinson
I put it down after 100 pages or so and I don't miss it.
Bob

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 152 people found the following review helpful By Eric Anderson on March 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
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.
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105 of 120 people found the following review helpful By A.J. on June 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
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.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful By actaeon@gateway.net on January 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
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.
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