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The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
Shortly after applying for my English course I found myself perusing a bookstore at a London Airport. There was a 3=2 offer and I decided to buy some books to read for my list. I had heard about Doris Lessing because she had recently won the nobel prize and since I kept an art journal the subject of a woman keeping notebooks appealed to me.
In a way this is not a straight forward, A to B novel, and in a way it is. It consists of a main storyline that functions as a frame for the content of Anna's different notebooks. Slowly the boundaries between the notebooks and the framework of the novel start to dissolve, untill it's not clear which is which anymore and they all come together. This is symbolic for how the different sides of Anna's personality and life come together. In the book this is also symbolised by one new notebook to use in stead of the seperate notebooks; the golden notebook.
In the frame, which is called 'Free women' there is a narrator, some of the notebooks are written from Anna's perspective in I-form.
The central character is Anna, she has written a bestselling novel based on her own experiences in Africa during world war 2 and suffers from a writers block ever since. Although she has not written for publication, she keeps 4 seperate notebooks, each with their own subject. In them, she writes about her own life, her work, her finances, she sticks in newspaperclippings and writes fiction for which the inspiration was drawn from her own life experiences. She and her close friend Molly, both former members of the communist party, regard themselves as 'free women', but in my opinion care far too much for other peoples opinions and seem to give in too easily to men who want to have sex with them, because they somehow feel obliged. Nevertheless this was quite a controversial novel when it first came out and was adopted by women rights movements in those days as a feminist book. The timeframe is not quite clear, I would guess it describes about a year or maybe a somewhat longer period of Anna's life. In that year Molly's son Tommy becomes blind by shooting himself in the head after reading in Anna's notebooks, this changes the dynamics in his family circle (Molly, his father Richard, Richard's wife, and Anna who has seen him grow up when she and her daughter lived with Molly and Tommy), Anna's daughter Jeanet leaves to go to boarding school, Anna quits her job and during all of this she has several affairs, mostly with married men. Trough the notebooks we learn a lot about her past aswell. The notebooks contradict each other sometimes, and there's a lot of repitition.
I would say the main themes of the novel are emancipation, interpersonal relationships, politics and writing.
This is a post war novel. It can be regarded as a modern novel not just because of that, but also because Lessing experiments with form and style and doesn't let herself be limited by traditionally set boundaries, even though she claims to have been influenced a lot by the work of classic writers. Also the setting might be old fashioned, but some of the issues in the novel are still current, like the way men and women relate to each other, fullfilling your talents/ambitions/potential, political hopes and desillusions.
I knew the seperate notebooks would be part of the form of the novel but I expected them to play a more direct role in the story in a different way. I had hoped for a book more about creativity and writing, and although these play a role in the story, it's more about Anna's psychological state of mind and her relationships and affairs with other people. Therefor I was somewhat dissapointed about the subject matter. I could not identify with the main character as I had hoped I would. I never got swept away by the story and didn't enjoy reading it much. I did find it to be well written and in hindsight I like how Lessing played with the form of the novel.
Geplaatst op 17-09-2010.
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Reactie geplaatst op 2014-06-29.