many novels can be said to have an impact on readers almost 40 years
after their publication? Doris Lessings The Golden Notebook
is one of them; her words have resonated through the years and continue
to illuminate and enlighten the lives of men and women all over
the world. The words which comprise The Golden Notebook
breath even after the book is closed. The human issues are clear;
the life of Lessings main character, told in quiet prose through
the four notebooks, offers an understanding of issues such as political
repression, sexual abuse, single parenthood, writers block,
and the womens movement. These problems, presented with a
quiet virility, give strength to readers even today.
Knowing was an illumination
During the last few weeks of craziness and timelessness Ive
had those moments of knowing
one after the other, yet there
is no way of putting this sort of knowledge into words. Yet, these
moments have been so powerful, like the rapid illuminations of a
dream that remain with one during waking, that what I have learned
will be part of how I experience life until I die.
Its lines like this that give
substance and meaning to the life-driven chaos felt by all people
at some time in their lives. Anna Wulf, the protagonist in the story,
is a writer, a single motherand more than she had imagined.
She uncovers and dissects the pages of notebooks that sit side-by-side
on a simple desk, a quiet retreat in a dark room in her flat. She
lives alone with her young daughter, occasionally renting out a
room; this is the way to fill some of the empty space around her
and to keep the empty walls of her home from closing in on her.
Its the warm pitter-patter of feet up above that keep her
from feeling the loneliness she has denied for most of her life.
Writers block has taken her
over and choked the love for writing and searching she once had.
Her first novel, an autobiographical story about a group of Communists
in colonial Africa, was immensely successful. Though, as she says,
Its almost as if someone else wrote it
Now, the four notebooks contain the
moments of Annas life. Each of the colored books presents
a facet of her existence. A part of her self is contained within
their pages. The black notebook contains her experiences in Africa;
red her thoughts on the currents politics in England. The yellow
notebook is for her fictionalized version of herself and a blue
notebook is her diary, her release, her intimate message to the
Anna, the writer, the single woman,
the political activist, struggles to find a way to integrate her
multiple selves, a way to make her life seem less painful and to
pick up the broken pieces that surround her. Shes motivated
to keep these four notebooks out of "fear of chaos, formlessnessof
breakdown." Although framed by a conventional novel called
, the point of the novel, according to Lessing,
is the "relation of its parts to each other."
By separating the parts of her life,
Anna carefully probes each layer of her consciousness and is eventually
able to bring it all together in one notebook, The Golden Notebook
She unifies her existence and identity into one. By going over her
experiences, her responses to life, she eventually comes to terms
with her growing disillusionment, her self-induced sexual betrayal,
and her feelings of social and emotional rejection.
In 640 pages of well-written prose,
Doris Lessing tries to come to terms with all that she has or hasnt
created in life. Shes up against the same choices many of
us have to make: deciding whats important in her life and
what isnt. The main character, Anna, is in the midst of a
breakdown and a breakthrough which are evident through the plot
elements presented in each notebook.
Ms. Lessings novel broke the
mold in 1962 when it was first published. Even now, its hard
to imagine another piece of work that fuses sex, politics, and emotional
breakdown so completely and with such honesty and frankness. What
is most astonishing and intriguing about this novel is how it takes
the reader through the essence of a true emotional breakdown. The
very form of this novel is what provides such an intimate glimpse
of something to which almost any reader can relate at some point
in this novel. And it isnt even recognizably a novel at all.
Instead, the reader is shown fragments, memories, emotions, and
opinions thrown togetherbut the relationship they all eventually
form together is what the reader is forced to figure out and learn
Even with the nontraditional form
that Ms. Lessing chose, the novel is not difficult to understand
or follow. The author finds a quiet beauty in the simple language.
Its not hard for the reader to find him- or herself settled
neatly in the midst of Annas troubles. Ms. Lessing exposes
her character in such a way thats its much like looking
through a pane of glass at a character and her plight for emotional
When she becomes aware that these
four books fail to capture her whole self, Anna attempts to convey
the totality of her experience in a new (golden) notebook. Bewilderingly,
the reader now discovers that he or she has been reading this novel
all alonga glimpse of what Ms. Lessing presented at the beginning,
. This new novel, or rather the one that has been
hidden beneath it all, is a realistic one in which Anna Wulf appears
as a relatively sane, whole human being. Free Women
the reader to abandon their preconceptions. Though almost forty
years old, this book is contemporary in its concerns.
Doris Lessing wrote once that she
considered this novel something of a failure because it only names
the issues, exploring briefly, but not solving. But The Golden
if read carefully, soulfully, and with introspection,
will force the reader to struggle right along with Ms. Lessings
Anna Wulf in search of the real self. If you let it, this book will