Book review: The Golden Notebook

Posted by Bel. The time is 3.30pm here in Wellington, NZ.

I was looking forward to this book, as I recalled hearing of Doris Lessing's comments when she was presented with a Nobel Prize for Literature a year or so ago, at the age of nearly 90. (Basically, she was like, "So what? Took your effing time.")

But The Golden Notebook is not anywhere near as succinct or funny. It made my head swim and my mood increasingly sour as I plodded towards its conclusion. I berated myself for my compulsion to complete books - although it must said, there was something in this that kept me hanging on.

It tells the story (sort of) of Anna Wulf, through her various segmented diaries, and another interweaving section, telling her current life. One diary appears to be a re-telling of her life, fictionalised, reusing character names - which I found most confusing!! Much of the early part of the book focuses on idealistic political views and personal lifestyle choices; seemingly emerging from the dark cloud of World War II determined to improve the world (through Communist values, in this case) and with the early ripples of feminism.

But by the end of the book, it seems to have spiralled down into a nasty self-fulfilling prophesy. All of Anna's previous scathing indictment on the futility of co-dependant male/female relationships comes to fruition in her inability to either relate to or release herself from men. Sigh.

Also: she kind of goes potty about her political beliefs (which earlier they'd been scathing about); the young bright-eyed son turns industrialist (which earlier they'd been scathing about); and her best friend and fellow singleton gets married and moves to the burbs (which earlier, OF COURSE, they'd been scathing about).

I threw the book down in a huff, wondering why it was a tome of such import and went scurrying to ask questions of your friend and mine, the interwebs. I came across a website called The Golden Notebook Project, where a group of feminists have done an interactive 'close reading' of the book, with each page reproduced online with their notes and discussions presented alongside.

The site is worth checking out if you have any interest in website design, because its features and functionality are pretty unique. It is very snazzy-looking as well as easy to use, and made me geek out a bit, I must admit. Also, it made me feel better about the book in general, because many of their reactions were similar - one reader made a wrap-up blog post about how she had to recover from spending so much time reading the brain-churning book by indulging in the kind of shallow romantic comedies she usually hated. Whew! Not just me then.


The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. Not recommended.
Published in 1962. Set in England/Africa, 1930s-50s.
#46 from 'The List'