Book Review – The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

“Art is the Mirror of our betrayed ideals,” wrote Doris Lessing in The Golden Notebook. (Location 7502) This complex tour-de-force provided the author ample opportunity to explore this theme as well as myriad others. Ms. Lessing delved into matters as diverse as relationships, her disillusionment with the Communist Party and the psyche of the creative mind among more I wouldn’t be able to count.

It saddened me to hear of Ms. Lessing’s passing last November. I’ve had a copy of The Golden Notebook sitting on my bookshelf ever since she won the Nobel Prize in Literature. (2008) I’ve read several of her other works, but just never got around to this one. I know many people cite it as her major novel. When I saw a digital version of it on sale for a few dollars, I decided to stop waiting. I picked it up and read it. I’m glad I did. If I’d known the text’s difficulty in advance, I don’t know that I would have. This book caused me to struggle mightily.

The story centered on a series of notebooks that the protagonist, Anna Wulf, kept. I welcomed the section where she described the purpose of each one.

I keep 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. (Location 8163)

The perspective shifted between the various notebooks and the overall story narrative. When I realized that it reminded me a bit of The Who’s Quadrophenia. I couldn’t follow that, either.

While hard to understand, I did like a number of things about the novel. The insight into the creative mind of an author (the yellow notebook) enlightened me. It left me with some insights into how the mind of this Nobel Laureate came up with ideas.

On a personal level, I’ve always thought communism the most ridiculous political philosophy ever developed. It made me glad to see the author abandoned it by the time of this 1962 release. The following statement appeared in the novel.

Very few people care about freedom, about liberty, about the truth, very few. Very few people have the guts, the kind of guts on which a real democracy has to depend. Without people with that sort of guts a free society dies or cannot be born. (Location 9622)

I’m glad Ms. Lessing realized that and abandoned Marxism.

While I had trouble comprehending how their adventures related to one another, I thought the characters very well drawn. I especially liked Anna Wulf. The line, “It seems to me that if I can achieve some sort of self-discipline, instead of aimless reading, aimless thinking, I can defeat my depression.” (Location 9408) From the way the author structured the novel, I don’t think Anna did.

All-in-all I’d classify The Golden Notebook as a very complicated read, and extremely hard to understand. Now that I have a background and know the framework of the story better, I would be willing to read it once again. I might keep a journal while doing so. Who knows? When I finish, I may have enough material for a golden notebook of my own.

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