Top critical review
The Golden Notebook
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 12, 2008
I belong to a book group of highly literate, intelligent older women, some of whom are themselves writers and teachers, all with strong social and cultural concerns. Though a few of us had read some Doris Lessing years ago when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature we decided to read and discuss one of her works. It was my month to lead the discussion and I selected her most well known work, The Golden Notebook.
After reading about sixty pages of this 640 page volume, I knew that I being the leader would probably be the only one of the dozen members of our group who would plow through to the end. Lessing is a fine writer, her descriptions make things come alive, her sensitivity to the terrible social injustices in Africa, the arrogance of the young, and the atrocities of the group think of Communism are extremely well portrayed, but the complete self absorption and lack of compassion or caring for any individual other than herself, becomes extremely tiring and truly boring, to the point that I wanted to shout--"Come on, get a life." I too, was a thinking adult in 1962 (the date of the books original publication), and yes, there was horrific social and racial injustice, terrible selfishness and stultifying patriarchal and cultural stratification, in many places there still is, but everyone else in this world is not all bad. Please, please, please show some humanity. Have you no sympathy, no empathy? Sexual liberation is one thing, but emotional balance is lacking. Love in this book is only gratification of one's own desire. Maybe this is the point of the novel. To show the basic self absorption of someone who is trying to buck the system. To show the evils of the world. After all, Lessing wrote that true art was to expose the depths of pain. Perhaps. But I believe there is something to be said for art that uncovers beauty in a broken world.
In this work Anna, the protagonist, wrote her different colored Notebooks to demonstrate the fragmentation of her life. But her inability to get beyond herself did not hold my interest or empathy and though I agree that Lessing is extremely talented and obviously dedicated to creating literature to depict the way she knows the world, I am saddened that hers is one of cynicism despair. In this novel the gift of golden notebook at the end seems contrived and unconvincing. If life to Lessing means nihilistic terror into nothingness, she has captured it in her art.