History: This book was written in 1962. All four notebooks and the frame narrative testify to the above themes of Stalinism, the Cold War and the threat of nuclear conflagration, and women's struggles with the conflicts of work, sex, love, maternity, and politics.
Plot: The Golden Notebook is the story of writer Anna Wulf, the four notebooks in which she keeps the record of her life, and her attempt to tie them all together in a fifth, gold-colored notebook. The book intersperses segments of an ostensibly realistic narrative of the lives of Molly and Anna, and their children, ex-husbands and lovers—entitled Free Women—with excerpts from Anna's four notebooks, coloured black (of Anna's experience in Central Africa, before and during WWII, which inspired her own bestselling novel), red (of her experience as a member of the Communist Party), yellow (an ongoing novel that is being written based on the painful ending of Anna's own love affair), and blue (Anna's personal journal where she records her memories, dreams, and emotional life). Each notebook is returned to four times, interspersed with episodes from Free Women, creating non-chronological, overlapping sections that interact with one another. This post-modernistic styling, with its space and room for "play" engaging the characters and readers, is among the most famous features of the book, although Lessing insisted that readers and reviewers pay attention to the serious themes in the novel.[
Review: I would not call this book feminist. And, frankly, Lessing herself wouldn’t call this book feminist. Feminism is not about women complaining about the men they refuse to live without. I am a feminist because I care about gender, question power and work for equality.
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.
Opening Line: “The two women were alone in the London flat.”
Closing Line: “The two women kissed and separated.”
Quotes: “Human beings are so divided, are becoming more and more divided, and more subdivided in themselves, reflecting the world, that they reach out desperately, not knowing they do it, for information about other groups in other countries. It is a blind grasping out for their own wholeness, and the novel-report is a means toward it.”
Rating: Good, important.