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The Golden Notebook (1962)

by Doris Lessing

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,982831,814 (3.64)1 / 369
Anna Wulf is a young novelist with writer's block. Divorced, with a young child, and disillusioned by unsatisfactory relationships, she feels her life is falling apart. In fear of madness, she records her experiences in four coloured notebooks.
  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. 21
    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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» See also 369 mentions

English (72)  Spanish (4)  French (2)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  Bulgarian (1)  German (1)  All languages (82)
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
this book was inspiring and exciting and tedious and frustrating and, in the end, too long. but its tendency to actually brighten the world around me in myriad ways earns it four stars. i would warn that its men-focused feminism grates a little these days, but with some simple realigning of expectations it is easy to see how groundbreaking this must have been. ( )
  J.Flux | Aug 13, 2022 |
“What's terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don't need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you're capable of better.”

Anna Wulf is a divorced single mother, former communist and one time successful author living in London in the late 1950’s. Anna’s marriage had been brief and lacked any emotional intimacy but had produced a daughter for which she is thankful. Anna has had other relationships since her divorce, invariably with married men, which never last.

Anna wrote a best-selling novel called 'Frontiers of War' based on her time in Colonial Africa during WWII and is centred around a group of young, white, idealists. The proceeds from the book has enabled Anna to buy a house in London for her daughter and herself with room for a tenant. When her daughter decides that she wants to go off to boarding school Anna's days lose their structure. Meanwhile, the proceeds from her novel, her main means of financial support, are drying up and unable to get past her crippling writer's block Anna fears that she is slowly sinking and losing her mind.

Anna has only one close friend; Molly, a minor actress who like Anna is a single mother and a former Communist. Like Anna Molly is supporting herself and her son using the fickle income of an artist. Unlike Anna Molly is still in touch with her child's father but this only causes rancour as the two parents constantly bicker over how the child, a teenage boy, is being brought up. Anna is often the go-between for them, a further source of stress that she doesn't need.

'The Golden Notebook' is quite conceptual in its writing style and is told with a shattered narrative making this quite a difficult read. We read the story of Anna in two main forms. The first is a fairly standard third-person novella called 'Free Women' which is divided into five parts. The second is a first-person narration by Anna that comes in the form of her notebooks – she has four of them. In the black notebook she writes about her writing life, in the red notebook about her political life, in the yellow notebook about her ‘emotional life’ and in the blue notebook about everyday events. Essentially, Anna’s note keeping is a form of self-therapy.

Like Anna, at the time of writing, Lessing was also a divorced single mother, a disillusioned communist, and the writer of a best-selling first novel set in Colonial Africa during WWII (The Grass is Singing) meaning that this novel is largely autobiographical. Lessing is adamant that she did not set out to write a ‘feminist’ novel yet Anna and Molly are two
women who enjoy a certain sense of liberty, certainly compared to previous generations, yet still feel trapped and do not enjoy the same freedoms as men. Both are single mothers whom married men see as likely mistresses rather than anything more permanent.

After about 50 pages I was about ready to throw in the towel and give up, I felt that it was boring. But I persevered and even on completion I'm still unsure whether or not I made the right decision.

I became quite invested in the story of 'Ella and Paul' (found in the black notebook) but had to remind myself that they are ‘fictional’ since they are characters in Anna's published novel. This in turn made me question what of 'Free Women' should I trust? Nor did I particularly enjoy the segments in the blue notebook where Anna slips into stream-of-consciousness. There are some very fine passages but I found it patchwork, complex and confusing. I also have to ask whether or not this novel has aged well or was it very much of its time? Not only has the political situation moved on but I like to think that female emancipation has too but then maybe I'm simply the wrong sex. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jun 7, 2022 |
At the center of The Golden Notebook is Anna. To understand The Golden Notebook is to understand the four sides of Anna. Author of four colored notebooks, Anna is a reviewer of her experiences and travels in Africa (black covered), a questioner of communism and her role in politics (appropriately red covered), an author writing a descriptive autobiographical novel (yellow covered), and a diarist expressing her undying love for an American author (blue covered). In an attempt to organize all aspects of her life, Anna strives to combine all four notebooks into one golden book called "Free Women."
Drawing from her own life, Lessing knew she had to change some details in the Golden Notebook, but to this day, readers are left asking themselves, exactly how much of Golden Notebook was still the autobiographical truth? ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 5, 2022 |
Wonderfully shattered narrative. ( )
  brakketh | Apr 30, 2022 |
One of the most magnificent ( )
  RODNEYP | May 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lessing, Dorisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, JulietNarratorsecondary 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.
The essence of the book, the organisation of it, everything in it, says implicitly and explicitly, that we must not divide things off, must not compartmentalise.
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Anna Wulf is a young novelist with writer's block. Divorced, with a young child, and disillusioned by unsatisfactory relationships, she feels her life is falling apart. In fear of madness, she records her experiences in four coloured notebooks.

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