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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
3,895621,318 (3.65)1 / 318
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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English (55)  Spanish (3)  French (1)  Danish (1)  Bulgarian (1)  Dutch (1)  All (62)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
A tough read this one, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s long and you are going to wish you were nearer the end than the beginning on many occasions. This is because it’s often tedious. There’s no real story that cohesively holds the whole thing together that is really of much interest.

It’s the life of Anna Wulf, a novelist. She spent some time in South Africa during WW2, was for many years a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and has published a novel which hasn’t done too badly. Although each of these in itself has the potential to be an engaging read, Lessing is too much of a realist for that. Instead you are bound and gagged and placed on the fringe of endless conversations Lessing uses to portray communism, attitudes towards women, sexuality, male-female relationships and so on which culminate (although that’s far too strong a word) in something that may be a nervous breakdown (again, too strong a phrase).

On top of this, having watered down potentially engaging topics through banality, Lessing has also decided to record each of these topics in different coloured notebooks and present extracts from each in series. As if that didn’t create enough dissonance, you also have a narrative that runs independent of these and which, if I’m honest, I can’t honestly remember anything about.

When you finally make it to the eponymous golden notebook, you have a grain of hope left that this might actually be a turning point, a pinnacle that has made the arduous climb worth it. It’s a false summit; all that is gold does not glister.

I get why this was an important novel, how novel the structure was and how important the topics were for the time. It scores highly simply because of these qualities. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed reading it or that I’d recommend it. I didn’t, and I wouldn’t. ( )
  arukiyomi | Jun 10, 2017 |
Over the years, I have read bits and pieces by Doris Lessing. I liked those works – a lot. But something held me back from a full on committal to her novels. Then I read an article about her work, which praised The Golden Notebook as her masterpiece. I had tried to read it three decades or so ago, and I could not get into it. This was one of my earliest deployments of “The Rule of 50.” About Twenty years ago, I tried again, but I got no further. About a month ago, I decided to try once more. Unfortunately, my copy of the book had disappeared. I bought another copy, and the new one had an introduction by Doris. This detailed look into her life, her writings, and her philosophy open wide the doors of understanding. This time I was determined to read the entire The Golden Notebook.

Doris May Lessing had an amazingly interesting and widely varying life. She was a British novelist, poet, playwright, librettist, biographer, and short story writer. She was born October 22, 1919 in Kermanshah, Iran, and she died in London November 17, 2013. The introduction to my newest copy of the book has an extensive introduction to the novel. I do not recall whether or not my original copy had the Intro, but I found it to be most helpful in digging through the layers to an understanding of her, her life, and her works

As my readers can imagine from the introduction, this novel will be a challenge; however, readers interested in writers, philosophy, politics, and fiction will be rewarded with an amazing experience. The story revolves around four journals Doris kept from a young age. The journals were green, blue, red, and black. Each deals with a different aspect of her life – politics, a memoir, her written work, and a diary. She then took these four books and wove into them a story of two women. Anna is a character who seems a lot like Doris. Anna is a writer, and she is telling the story of Ella, who seems a whole lot like Anna and Doris.

Some of her paragraphs go on for well over two or even three pages. If you delve into this wonderful and amazing novel, take some serious concentration pills, a pencil, and note book paper. Here is a sample of a conversation between Anna and Saul, her then current love interest. Lessing wrote, “‘you can’t go on like this, you’ve got to start writing again.’ // ‘Obviously if I could, I would.’ // ‘No, Anna, that’s not good enough. Why don’t you write that short story you’ve just told me about? No, I don’t want all that hokum you usually give me—tell me in one simple sentence, why not. You can call in Christmas cracker mottoes if you like, but while I was walking about I was thinking that you could simplify it in your mind, boil it all down to something, then you could take a good long look at it and beat it.’ // I began to laugh, but he said: ‘No, Anna, you’re going to really crack up unless you do.’ // ‘Very well then. I can’t write that story or any other story, because at that moment I sit down to write, someone comes into the room, looks over my shoulders, and stops me.’ // ‘Who? Do you know?’ // ‘Of course I know. It could be a Chinese peasant. Or one of Castro’s guerrilla fighters. Or an Algerian fighting in the F.L.N. Or Mr. Mathlong. They stand here in the room and they say, why aren’t you doing something about us, instead of wasting your time scribbling?’” (609).

I also noticed some references to other characters and story-lines. I has pleased to read of a character who reminded me of Martha Quest, the title character in her first of four novels in the Children of Violence series. Reach beyond what you usually read, and stretch you reading skills with The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. 5 stars

--Jim, 2/8/17 ( )
  rmckeown | Apr 9, 2017 |
I admit it, I had thought this would be extremely hard-going. I’d read a couple of Lessing’s other novels and not been taken with them – and even if the first book of her sf quintet, Canopus in Argos Archives, Shikasta, felt to me like being beaten about the head by Ursula K Le Guin. The Golden Notebook, Lessing’s most celebrated novel, I expected to be a bit of a chore – especially given its 576 pages… So I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was an engrossing read. I’m only glad I read it after writing All That Outer Space Allows, as some structural elements of my novel might well have changed and in hindsight I’m not convinced they’d have been improvements. The Golden Notebook is a novel titled ‘Free Women’, about Anna Wulf, writer of a single successful novel based on her years in Africa during WWII, who is now living in London. She is also a communist. Between Sections of ‘Free Women’ are Wulf’s notebooks – black, red, yellow and blue. In the black notebook, she describes her time in Africa – on which her one published novel, ‘Frontiers of War’ (and which I kept on mis-thinking as Olivia Manning’s Fortunes of War) was based – and later, her life in London. The red notebook details Wulf’s politics and her interactions with the Communist Party. The yellow notebook is a fictionalisation of Wulf’s own life, title ‘The Shadow of the Third’, in which Wulf’s part is played by a woman called Ella. And the blue notebook starts out as a diary, but at times is more of a scrapbook, filled with newspaper cuttings. The five narratives, despite covering similar ground, don’t actually confuse The Golden Notebook‘s story, they actually deepen it and successfully show different aspects of Wulf’s character – as a writer, as a communist, her sex life (especially her affairs, none of which last) and her relations with her friends. The more observant among you will have noticed that the title of Lessing’s novel refers to a notebook not yet mentioned. This only appears near the end, opens by describing Anna breaking free of her then-boyfriend, before becoming that boyfriend’s own novel (a précis is given only), since writing is the catalyst the two use to part amicably. I really liked The Golden Notebook, and I honestly hadn’t expected to. I can see how it might have shocked in 1962 – Lessing is very forthright about Wulf’s sex life – and the sharp criticism of the lives women were expected to live can’t have gone down too well. I expect the communism would be more of a turn-off to twenty-first century readers than the sexual politics. But The Golden Notebook does read like a book ahead of its time. Recommended. ( )
1 vote iansales | Oct 19, 2016 |
More of a 4.5 really, because of a few issues. However, I'm still fairly certain this is a masterpiece. Review to follow. ( )
  thebookmagpie | Aug 7, 2016 |
This is the most suppurating twaddle I've ever read. Dreadful book; there should be a warning on the cover, Beware all who enter for this book is only about failed relationships between women and the many, many lovers in their lives."" ( )
1 vote ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Doris Lessingprimary authorall editionscalculated
Marcellino, FredCover designersecondary authorsome 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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