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The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
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The Golden Notebook (1962)

by Doris Lessing

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,095641,713 (3.65)1 / 334
  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. 11
    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (readerbabe1984)
  3. 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)
  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 57 (next | show all)
I read this when I was a young woman and was profoundly influenced by it. I had a paperback edition which disappeared long ago, much to my chagrin, and I am very glad to have a digital copy of it. It is much how I felt when I was in romantic relationships, and it is profoundly political. You can't help but admire this deep and complex book. ( )
  deckla | Jul 15, 2018 |
It took me a little while, but once this book started clicking for me (thanks largely to Juliet Stevenson’s narration of the audiobook), I couldn’t get enough of it.

This is not an easy book, but keeping track of the different notebooks and storylines is so worth it. Beautiful and very quotable. It deal with a lot: feminism, communism, Africa, mental health, marriage, friendship, and more. The format of the book can be a bit challenging, but I really connected with it.

This quote speaks to me, as a 40-year-old reader who probably wouldn’t have appreciated this book nearly as much when I was younger:

‘Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty.’

I gave the book 4 stars. ( )
  sprainedbrain | Mar 26, 2018 |
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing First let me say that I cheated a bit and listened to this 27 hour audiobook and that part was a mistake. It made the divisions in the story more difficult to understand and I ended up going back and getting the ebook to make sense of it afterword.
The book hit me much like Madame Bovary did back when I read it first but I understand the problem now and can honestly say that I see why it is considered a feminist classic and how it contributed to the body of work that eventually won Doris Lessing the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The book is incredibly problematic in many ways right from the start. The point of the book though, is the introspection into the four notebooks where the main character looks at all the ways in which the bubble of her life as an upper middle class white heterosexual in the society of England just afte WWII is problematic. While I'm sure problematic would not be the word Lessing would have used at the time, this is where we've come in looking at books and feminism and all the intersections of life. As part of this, there is also a diversity problem throughout. Nevertheless, we do get to see some people who still have representation issues and though the characters aren't treated well, it's a part of the book that the main character spends time writing in the notebooks about her treatment of them, her feelings about it, and sometimes debating other tactics. None of this makes her noble, but it definitely makes the book ahead of its time. For the record, it was originally published in 1962, which is a year before The Feminine Mystique. Along with the aforementioned notes about people, she also takes a long and introspective look at her life, her role in society, the way society treats her and the things expected of her by everyone.
Like I said, it was a book ahead of its time. It's problematic in many aspects right from the start but the point is looking at her life. For me, that makes the nature of the problems a part of the plot and not an afterthought or something the writer neglected to care about. The whole point is seeing for yourself if you are a racist or sexist or hetero-sexist.
Some minor spoilers ahead.
To elaborate on what I was getting at above, this book is great in that it so well explains that plight of women in several walks of life during it's time. The part that bothers me is intricate to what makes it great. It's so true.
Yes, it gets quite complicated and it may be difficult to understand what I mean by that in a review and I did think at first that maybe it was just me and I just really identified with the women the story is about. But it's not. I know that because I also get the ebook, as I mentioned above, which has two introductions that were written by the author, one in 1993 and the other in 1971. She has received enough fanmail and letters stated this that I know I'm not alone in that.
What I mean by the "plight of women" is that there are things that we all know happened back in the time that this book was made that we like to gloss over. We watch old movies where men say things that we would not consider a compliment if said now and the women laugh and then we laugh as if it's okay because those aren't real women anyway, right? Well, many of those very things had to be a part of the culture, it only makes sense when it pops up in, literally everything made in the time. Let's go ahead and add in the feeling that there is a requirement to have sex with a guy who buys you dinner now, let alone in a time before the Women's Liberation movement.
So yeah, what made me squirm as I read the story wasn't that I didn't like it as a masterful piece of work with a beautiful prose that just makes you feel what the characters feel, but the idea of living and breathing in that world terrifies me. A lot. Like, A LOT. It's not Hunger Games level, but it's not necessarily far off either.
I grew up knowing that there were lots of women around me that felt like they had to just be happy with the man they married despite affairs and poor treatment because they were unemployable and he was a decent provider for their kids. And just like with some of the men here, it was her kids, not their kids together. These guys don't feel anything for their children, they aren't a part of their lives. Having kids was a favor they did for the women they kept all but chained to the house. Now, don't get me wrong, house-wives are great. It's the idea of a man looking at his housewife as if she exists as a burden to him and having children with her solely to give her life meaning because he won't "let" her do that by any other means or because she feels bound by society to make that the meaning of her life that I have a problem with.
Part of what makes this so clear is that the book itself isn't about a housewife, it's about a serial mistress. She doesn't want to be married. I don't want to spoil all the details of why and her circumstances, but this gives us the window through which we get to see these men. Married men in pursuit of her as their girl on the side and then we get to walk through her thought process and whether or not she wants to sleep with them and whether or not she does in spite of desire but out of obligation. All of these things leave her in positions that I would loathe finding myself in as well as most of the other women in the book. Before I get accused of making the distinction, though I don't think it should be necessary, I do understand that this is her circle and the people she finds herself around. I'm sure there were plenty of perfectly happy marriages with men who didn't sleep around. This book isn't about those marriages or those men.
What makes it a truly interesting book despite all the things that terrify me is that what makes the plot move along is Anna's introspection that is brought on by her notebooks. She has written a successful book and is compartmentalising in an effort to find adequate inspiration for a new book. Her introspection makes her take a second look at everything, even the most menial, repetitive, or normal things. For example, she mentions washing up several times a day while on her period and changing out her tampons. She doesn't just mention it but thinks on how it makes her feel, how it effects what happens throughout the day that she has to take this extra precaution.
The commentary on communism is an interesting one that I've never really heard before. It makes sense to see it in the beginning as something hopeful on that level but I love that it is also broken down into people and how people can so easily break a concept like communism. My dad once said (and he was probably quoting but he's my original source) that communism is a great idea until you add people to it. I remember working to figure out what that meant and realizing that it does sound like it should create a better world, then later realizing that some greedy people will always come along and destroy it all. This, of course, was well after the Cold War ended and that cat was out of the bag. I'm sure I was watching something that mentioned something about it.
Due to her experience in Africa and the nature of her first novel, Anna does also get introspective about racism and even colonialism. The plot of that first novel would be considered very problematic these days and she realizes it in the book and spends some time on why and how and what she could have done differently but that it would not have sold that way. No one would have believed it or wanted to see it if she had told the real truth.
I found her dreams toward the end with the projectionist interesting. I had a similar, though different, experience recounting events in my life as I had started to become better versed in feminism these last few years and started to see all the little ways that I had bought into internalized misogyny. I had been a girl who said that I wasn't like other girls because I genuinely didn't like many other girls at the time. The list of faux pas from back then goes on, but the introspection was an important part of it. It's a little jarring when you sit down to it, at least it was for me and I appreciate that it was equally so for Anna. ( )
  Calavari | Jul 16, 2017 |
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 |
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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)

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The experiences of two women provide the framework for an intense literary study of liberated womanhood, in a new edition--which includes an author biography and publication history--of a novel originally published in 1962.

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