#CBR7 Review #221: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

There are some books that do really well as audiobooks, particularly if you have a long commute or need something that will engage your attention. There are others that have long, slow, winding threads of story and just don’t grab your attention the way they should when you are exhausted and stuck in rush-hour traffic. The Golden Notebook is a really difficult, dense book, and it does not a good audiobook make.

Anna Wulf is a conflicted writer. After publishing one highly successful novel, Frontiers of War, she finds herself in the ties of writer’s block. In the main thread of the novel (called The Free Women), she and her best friend Molly are conflicted about Molly’s ex-husband, current wife, and son Tommy. She finds herself returning to four notebooks—black, red, blue, and yellow—and wondering how to collate them all into a golden notebook that will make sense of her existence. She has considered herself a sexually liberated woman, but the novel continually intersperses the lost love she mourns, as well as those lovers who have impacted her in various ways. She struggles with her identity as a woman, an ex-Communist, a feminist, and an individual.

While the idea of this book is fascinating, it’s sometimes hard to decide if it works in execution. The fragmentation that the various notebooks bring up make me wonder if there is any cohesive storyline to find at all, if that’s even the point, or if postmodernism is just a sort of sloppy label to make this narrative work. Also, I want to bring up a point that’s been kind of bugging me. This is considered a feminist masterpiece, but it takes so much time to explore female insecurity and male sexual partners that it feels counter-productive. Also it’s very Freudian in a way that is anachronistic. I feel like this would have been much more widely studied 30 years ago, but not so much now. I don’t know if I would teach this book, or just merely a few excerpts. It’s a tough call, and it’s a tough book.

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