Reading a Golden Notebook (TSS)

Inspired by Bob Stein’s email about the ‘integrated reading experiment‘ with The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, I picked it up way back in early December 2008. Thanks to a lot of other things happening in my life, I have been getting very little time to read compared to what generally satisfies me. Ergo, I am yet to read the last chapter titled ‘The Golden Notebook’. However, this book is so rich with ideas that one may not need to finish to share one’s experience.

It is my personal opinion that though a little background on a work of literature helps our understanding of the intricacies of the work, it is generally advisable to read a book devoid of any preconceived or rather pre-propounded theories about the same. Anyone reading Lessing in our time will be struck by atleast two facts – that she won the Noble Prize for Literature in 2007 and that she is considered to be one of the leading ‘feminist’ authors of the 20th century. Neither of these are relevant to one’s being able to understand or appreciate her work.

The conciousness that Lessing is a ‘feminist’ author was something I made myself dispel within 20 pages of my reading. I realized that this fact was clouding my perception of every sentence I read. I feel, standing at the epilogue of this monumental work of literature, that Lessing has much more to convey than mere sexist themes. This is not to be misunderstood as an aversion of feminine rights in any way. Only that, I feel it is unjust to sweep away other powerful themes of such an epic merely because the feminist ones shock the male dominated society the most. Should shock and awe be a value to judge literature by?

Having said that, let me acknowledge Lessing’s masterful command over the female psyche. Probably, it is the dearth of such powerful and shameless expression by women that makes Golden Notebook relevant even after decades of its first publication. I consider Colin Wilson’s Outsider to be one of the most important books I have ever read and I remember him having observed that female ‘outsider’ artists were hard to come by. Lessing is definitely one of them.

One of the most interesting theme of this novel is the promise and disappointment of the communist revolution. She captures in all its essence, the temptation of communism to the generation of the 50s -70s, in various parts of the world. More than the feminist overtones, being able to capture with perfection the political debacle of communism and its effect on the intellectual youth of that era is the most important achievement of Lessing. Communism holds no temptation to my generation and therefore, to be able to understand its appeal in the past is a tricky task. I believe, Lessing provides an able road-map to all those who would care to.

It is too easy to pretend that communism is an evil; though it is actually insane if we do. Across borders, throughout the wide world, more than a 2/3rd majority of the intellectuals were attracted by it in the last century. Most of them today are professors in various universities teaching either the history of communism or the economics of capitalism. For anyone interested in an understanding of the 21st century world, this political history is the single most important theme to understand. For that alone, The Golden Notebook deserves a very serious read.

The feminist aspect of the book deserves to be read with passion and a will to understand, at least from the male perspective. And that is what I have attempted to do. To be able to read a matter of factly stream of conciousness passage about the various kinds of female orgasm is an education in itself. Not biological, but psychological, and more importantly social. However, I shall hold my guns for now and return to this theme in detail once I have finished the last chapter of the book.

To conclude, a warning. This is a long book and becomes long specially when the diary entries record the dry facts. There are pangs of ‘Let’s Chuck it’. If you survive them, this is a book worth all the time.

Posted as a part of the Sunday Salon

5 responses to “Reading a Golden Notebook (TSS)

  1. It’s been so long since I’ve read anything by Doris Lessing. I remember reading a novel and several of her short stories in my early 20s (that was 20 years ago!!), but can’t recall titles. What I do remember is her strong use of stream of consciousness. Coming from a very conservative Texas family, she definitely shocked my sensibilities at the time. 🙂

    I think you are right to overlook the shock and awe to what lies beneath it. I know my husband and I were both brought up to be appalled by Communism. Reading Aronson’s book about Sartre and Camus helped me understand it much better, but such things usually take hold the best through good fiction.

    I think I’ll leave this one off the reading list for now, however. White Tiger has been waiting to be read for months!

    As always, thanks for the informative and interesting review. And I hope all of the changes in your life and bringing much satisfaction.


  2. Welcome back Laura (let me get to your actual name from hereon)! You are correct about the stream of conciousness part. Lessing is mostly that and little dialogues, at least in this title.

    As and when you finally happen to read the White Tiger, do let me know how you like it.

    I checked your new blog a couple of days back and wanted to email you, however could not find and id on the blog. I am very disappointed and sad about having lost all those conversations I had with you and many more that you had with some fantastic people around.

    Do drop in your email id somewhere, so that on matters not related to either of our posts directly, we can keep in touch through emails.

  3. Hi, I’m actually reading ‘The Golden Notebook’ right now. Survived two ‘chuck it’ impulses in the first 200 pages, and now am hooked.

    Will write about it soon, at

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