Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Over the years, I have read bits and pieces by Doris Lessing.  I liked those works – a lot.  But something held me back from a full on committal to her novels.  Then I read an article about her work, which praised The Golden Notebook as her masterpiece.  I had tried to read it three decades or so ago, and I could not get into it.  This was one of my earliest deployments of “The Rule of 50.”  About Twenty years ago, I tried again, but I got no further.  About a month ago, I decided to try once more.  Unfortunately, my copy of the book had disappeared.  I bought another copy, and the new one had an introduction by Doris.  This detailed look into her life, her writings, and her philosophy open wide the doors of understanding.  This time I was determined to read the entire The Golden Notebook.

Doris May Lessing had an amazingly interesting and widely varying life. She was a British novelist, poet, playwright, librettist, biographer, and short story writer.  She was born October 22, 1919 in Kermanshah, Iran, and she died in London November 17, 2013.  The introduction to my newest copy of the book has an extensive introduction to the novel.  I do not recall whether or not my original copy had the Intro, but I found it to be most helpful in digging through the layers to an understanding of her, her life, and her works

As my readers can imagine from the introduction, this novel will be a challenge; however, readers interested in writers, philosophy, politics, and fiction will be rewarded with an amazing experience.  The story revolves around four journals Doris kept from a young age.  The journals were green, blue, red, and black.  Each deals with a different aspect of her life – politics, a memoir, her written work, and a diary.  She then took these four books and wove into them a story of two women.  Anna is a character who seems a lot like Doris.  Anna is a writer, and she is telling the story of Ella, who seems a whole lot like Anna and Doris.

Some of her paragraphs go on for well over two or even three pages.  If you delve into this wonderful and amazing novel, take some serious concentration pills, a pencil, and note book paper.  Here is a sample of a conversation between Anna and Saul, her then current love interest.  Lessing wrote, “‘you can’t go on like this, you’ve got to start writing again.’ // ‘Obviously if I could, I would.’ // ‘No, Anna, that’s not good enough. Why don’t you write that short story you’ve just told me about?  No, I don’t want all that hokum you usually give me—tell me in one simple sentence, why not.  You can call in Christmas cracker mottoes if you like, but while I was walking about I was thinking that you could simplify it in your mind, boil it all down to something, then you could take a good long look at it and beat it.’ // I began to laugh, but he said: ‘No, Anna, you’re going to really crack up unless you do.’ // ‘Very well then.  I can’t write that story or any other story, because at that moment I sit down to write, someone comes into the room, looks over my shoulders, and stops me.’ // ‘Who? Do you know?’ // ‘Of course I know.  It could be a Chinese peasant.  Or one of Castro’s guerrilla fighters.  Or an Algerian fighting in the F.L.N.  Or Mr. Mathlong.  They stand here in the room and they say, why aren’t you doing something about us, instead of wasting your time scribbling?’”  (609). 

I also noticed some references to other characters and story-lines.  I has pleased to read of a character who reminded me of Martha Quest, the title character in her first of four novels in the Children of Violence series.  Reach beyond what you usually read, and stretch you reading skills with The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.  5 stars

--Chiron, 2/8/17

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