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The golden notebook by Doris May Lessing
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The golden notebook (original 1962; edition 1962)

by Doris May Lessing

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,538561,494 (3.65)1 / 294
Member:thorold
Title:The golden notebook
Authors:Doris May Lessing
Info:London, 1962. 567 p. ; 8vo.
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:fiction, 1960s, feminism, communism, Southern Africa, diary

Work details

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)

  1. 31
    The Two of Them by Joanna Russ (lquilter)
    lquilter: While reading The Two of Them by Joanna Russ, I was persistently reminded of Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. The female protagonist's articulated rage, the psychoanalytic approach, the insurmountability of the patriarchy. For readers across genres who liked either of these novels, I would suggest trying the other.… (more)
  2. 00
    Orwell and Politics (Penguin Modern Classics) by George Orwell (DLSmithies)
    DLSmithies: Alright, this one's tenuous, but bear with me! Orwell has lots of interesting things to say about the socialist movement of the 30s and 40s in Britain and elsewhere, especially in Stalin's Russia. Similarly, the Communist Party in 1950s Britain looms large in the background of The Golden Notebook, and the main character is deeply troubled by the situation in Russia under Stalin (along with everything else that's happening on the world stage at the time). So, you see, there's a link!... ...or maybe it's just me.… (more)
  3. 01
    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (readerbabe1984)
  4. 12
    DORIS LESSING CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE (geneven)
    geneven: This five-book series is great, though depressing in spots. (I haven't read The Golden Notebook.)
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Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Lessing comments in the introduction that readers take what they need from what they read, and what I read is all about crashed ideals. Anna believed in her work with the Communist Party and believed in her book. She lost her beliefs and tries to resolve the issues in her life in a variety of ways but is unsuccessful. This is a book with a great deal of loss in it. Politics, sex, mental health issues, parental responsibilities, economic issues, and other matters are all included as areas of conflict that are not resolved here. The relationship between Anna and her daughter is a more memorable and more gentle part of this complex discussion. The unusual format was annoying at times, though interesting. Overall this was worthwhile and recommended reading. I found it comforting, but it is perhaps more immediately relatable for readers who are dealing with their own current loss. I don't think I would have gained as much from it in more recent and happier times. ( )
  karmiel | Aug 20, 2015 |
The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
This novel was not a trumpet for Women’s Liberation; claimed Lessing herself in an essay written in 1971, nearly ten years after The Golden Notebook was published and which serves as a preface to the 1993 edition, but I can understand how it might have been interpreted as such back in the early 1960’s. It is like many of her early novels drawn from her own life experiences, so much so that it seems autobiographical in places.

‘“Writing about oneself, one is writing about others, since your problems, pains, pleasures and emotions - and your extraordinary and remarkable ideas - can’t be yours alone”
Doris Lessing - essay1971

The subject of the book is Anna Wulf who is a forty something woman living in Earls Court London with her young daughter, she is living on the royalties of a successful novel. She is divorced. She spent the first thirty years or so of her life in Africa (Zimbabwe or perhaps South Africa) where she was a member of the communist party. She is suffering from writers block and although she might not admit it; the need to find a man with whom she can have a loving relationship. She feels adrift and although she has a number of affairs she is lurching toward a severe depression. Her inability to start a new book has coincided with her rejection of the communist party (CP) which has been her ideological and social base for most of her adult life. In an attempt to break out of the downward spiral she starts to write about her feelings, history, day to day events together with an imaginary novel based on current experiences in four separate notebooks. Lessing uses Anna’s notebooks as the basic structure for her novel, linking them with a narrative story called Free Woman which charts Anna’s progress through this painful period of her life.

The notebooks hold nothing back and if at times this reader thought he was wading through seas of menstrual blood then this is exactly what was important to Anna Wulf at the time. The notebooks present an intimate picture of Anna’s life and as she is a single parent coping with the social culture of the early 1960’s (where women are second class citizens and as such their sexual life is to be used and abused by men who are in a position to take advantage), she is not afraid to write about her own needs, both as a women and as a politically aware person. She goes to bed with men as and when it feels right for her to do so, there is no shame and no recriminations. She does not spare her vitriol on the men who cheat about their emotions, those that use their dominant position in society to get what they want and she meets or hears about quite a few of those, therefore it is not surprising that The Golden Notebook was/is seen as a cause celebre for women’s liberation both by women readers who felt the same way and by male critics who may have felt emasculated. However Lessing was writing a novel about one woman’s feelings at a certain point in her life, the book is very subjective it is not a clarion call for anything and although many of the men appear weak and unworthy much the same could be said for the women in Anna’s life.

Lessing has claimed that her book has been misinterpreted that it’s main subject was the disintegration of Anna Wulf, her descent into near madness at a time when the things that were important to her were also falling apart; for example her inability to get past her writers block, the meltdown inside the British Communist party, her fears for a world under the shadow of the H-bomb and the future of her child as well as her need for love. The disintegration is represented by the four notebooks where the only way that Anna can cope is to compartmentalise her life, but they are not the answer as they lead to more fragmentation as issues and stories from her past appear and reappear in different forms.

This is a book that will speak to many people, because of the rawness of it’s emotional content and Lessing may well be right in saying that when an author writes truthfully about herself then others will see their own lives partly reflected. I think that this is why the book does not quite hold together in the way that Lessing wished at the time, because readers were too busy identifying with the characters and failing to see the bigger picture. This may be still true today as for many people times have not changed all that much, but this is not Lessing’s fault. It is certainly not her fault in the way that the book is structured, because its last fifty or so pages are a passionate account of one person’s mental breakdown. Lessing writes imaginatively, saving some of her best prose to describe Anna’s dreams as they become confused with her reality. This writing prefigures some of her writing in her later science fiction novels. It is very effective here.

The Golden Notebook is the final notebook in which she writes about her affair with Saul Green, a man who's seems to be suffering from a multi personality disorder. Perhaps it is progress for Anna that she now has only one notebook and even more progress because she can give it away, but when Saul leaves as Anna knows he must taking some strength from their relationship, Anna is once again left with her problems. She still has work to do….

A Book that is passionate and powerful and once again mines the authors own life story for much of it’s content. Perhaps it is too powerful for it’s own good, because it does not quite come together for me, but then again that is one of its major themes and so it may be Lessing being more clever than I think she is. Anyway this is an important book for what it says about a brave and independent woman battling against the culture of her times which threatens her very sanity. Plenty of us will find in those intimate details of Anna’s life much to think about and so 4.5 stars. ( )
3 vote baswood | Jul 3, 2015 |
Some bits were fascinating - but I found others dull and some very irritating ( )
  lee-mervin | Jun 20, 2015 |
I wanted to love this book, and at times it held me captive, but with weak arms, it let me go too often to keep my affections. For one thing, a lot of people who's opinion I highly respect loved the book far more than I did. I've read a lot of fascinating things about the book after finishing with it. I won't try to delve into what the author's intentions were, what readers find or search for instead, whether the book was "successful" at accomplishing those intentions. I don't feel qualified to do so at this point.

What I can say is that I found the language, the 'voice' of the novel to be tiresome. It's published in 1962, and clearly comes from that era. I'm beginning to suspect I don't do well with books around then, and after writing this, I intend to filter my book list to see how I've rated other books around the same time.

However, there were a number of scenes and feelings I did connect with strongly, and certainly I can see how many people would love the book. Unfortunately, I'm just not one of them. ( )
  wjmcomposer | Nov 5, 2014 |
I wanted to love this book, and at times it held me captive, but with weak arms, it let me go too often to keep my affections. For one thing, a lot of people who's opinion I highly respect loved the book far more than I did. I've read a lot of fascinating things about the book after finishing with it. I won't try to delve into what the author's intentions were, what readers find or search for instead, whether the book was "successful" at accomplishing those intentions. I don't feel qualified to do so at this point.

What I can say is that I found the language, the 'voice' of the novel to be tiresome. It's published in 1962, and clearly comes from that era. I'm beginning to suspect I don't do well with books around then, and after writing this, I intend to filter my book list to see how I've rated other books around the same time.

However, there were a number of scenes and feelings I did connect with strongly, and certainly I can see how many people would love the book. Unfortunately, I'm just not one of them. ( )
  wjmcomposer | Nov 5, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Doris Lessingprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Valentí, HelenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vink, NettieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The two women were alone in the London flat.
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Ella decides to write again, searches herself for the book which is already written inside her, and waiting to be written down. She spends a great deal of time alone, waiting to discern the outlines of this book inside her.
Having a child means being conscious of the clock, never being free of something that has to be done at a certain moment ahead. I was sitting on the floor this afternoon, watching the sky darken, an inhabitant of a world where one can say, the quality of light means it must be evening, instead of: in exactly an hour I must put on the vegetables.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 006093140X, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:00 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Anna is a writer, author of one very successful novel, who now keeps four notebooks. In one, with a black cover, she reviews the African experience of her earlier years. In a red one she records her political life, her disillusionment with communism. In a yellow one she writes a novel in which the heroine relives part of her own experience. And in a blue one she keeps a personal diary. Finally, in love with an American writer and threatened with insanity, Anna resolves to bring the threads of all four books together in a golden notebook.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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