Week 7: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

10 comments

I finished it! I am on the train headed back to California and found the time to finish the second half of this long novel. The best word I can use to describe this book is Whitmanian — in fact, I think one could argue this as an epic poem and perhaps reach beyond the novel, though I don’t want to speak for Lessing, who identified the piece as a novel.

I enjoyed the format — 4 notebooks, each with different character, woven together into one final golden notebook. There is a ton of thematic redundancy within all notebooks, affording the reader the opportunity to continually revisit similar ideas, and sometimes nearly identical scenes.

At first the format was hard to keep up with — is Paul in the yellow notebook the same as Paul in the blue notebook? Over time, I got the hang of it and found pleasure in my confusion at times. I let it all wash over me and continued reading in spite of my doubts — I find this to be key for me when reading longer works.

Anna Wulf, the protagonist, might be one of the most relatable characters I’ve met in some time. The depth of thinking Lessing captures in text is remarkable and admirable to me — I can only hope to scratch the surface of this skill. There is a constant self-talk throughout the book that permeates the reader — you can’t help but feel much like Anna, at least in my experience.

I enjoyed this book and hope others will give it a chance, despite its length. I always try to read at least one book over 500 pages during our reading sessions and am happy to have completed this goal!

10 comments on “Week 7: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing”

  1. Congrats for achieving this goal! Is Anna the only person who appears in all of the notebooks? Is each notebook like a journal, and therefore written in the first person? I’m interested in the structure. I once heard a poetry instructor say that prose is meant to get the reader somewhere, and that the reader is meant to get lost in prose poetry. That’s what I thought of when I read your comments about this book.

    Thanks for intriguing us with it!

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    1. The four notebooks represent different things – the red is about her communist efforts, the yellow is fictional stories based on her life (Anna is Ella in this notebook), her blue notebook is a journal and her black notebook is about her time in Africa. It is pretty elaborate but totally worth the cognitive investment!

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    2. There are a few other characters who are continuous in the notebooks, of note Paul (lover also known as Michael), her daughter Janet (portrayed as a son in yellow notebook) and Molly her best friend and her son Tommy, all of whom are central to the overarching narrative about communism / socialism.

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      1. It might be ok since there are indications when the notebooks change – and since you have a sense of structure.. not sure .. I did Middlemarch by audio book 3rd read and it was ok but I couldn’t have done it for a first pass. I struggle with audio though.

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  2. You get lots of gold stars! It sounds like a challenging read. I was in a bookclub that read Middlemarch. One of the members left her library copy on an airplane, notes and all. She was so relieved; she had an excuse not to plow through to the end. A kind soul found the book and sent it back to the State College Library. She had time left so the library called her to tell her the good news! I did get through Middlemarch, but, as others in the club agreed, it took about 200 pages to get “hooked.” I may not be ready for The Golden Notebook.

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  3. Yay! You finished! Now I will put it on my list for another challenge down the road (maybe the winter reading group)… I love how this group encourages us to get through these books that are either dense or challenging. I don’t know about you, but I have started to shift the way that I read the harder stuff- I used to pause or stop each time that I would encounter something that I didn’t understand – or where I would get confused – or even places that I just wanted to stay and enjoy – and many times, I would stop too long and not pick the book back up! Now, helped by the time constraint of the challenge, I am learning to just keep rolling- occasionally I will pause to look up a word or meditate on something, maybe even backtrack to remind myself of details previously divulged that I have forgotten… but I quickly get back into the reading.

    I think you summed it up here, Alison: “Over time, I got the hang of it and found pleasure in my confusion at times. I let it all wash over me and continued reading in spite of my doubts — I find this to be key for me when reading longer works.” – Yes! And even for shorter, denser works…

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    1. I think you will be happy to have read this — I am not yet sure how to articulate what I got out of this book, but I keep recalling things from it and am still processing a lot of her thoughts and commentary that permeate the whole thing. It’s quite remarkable how there is so much philosophy hiding in plain sight throughout this novel.

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    2. And this is just to say…
      I am pretty sure I would not have finished this had I not acknowledged publicly that I started it! Thanks for all the gentle pushing 🙂

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