I’ve decide to assign Doris Lessing’s novel The Golden Notebook to Zimbabwe, since part of it takes place in Africa, and since Doris Lessing, while born in Iran, grew up in Zimbabwe. I could also have placed it in England, since the rest of the novel takes place in London. But I certainly don’t need another England book.
This was a complicated book. I’m not sure it helped that I listened to it on audio, since some of the complex structure of the book would have been easier to follow on paper. Still, other than the narrator’s mediocre command of American accents when required, I actually enjoyed listening to all 28 or so hours of the novel very much. In the end, though, it will not be one of my favorites. It is too pessimistic about too many things for me to feel deeply connected to it. I am not cynical enough to identify with the protagonist completely. But it offered a pretty fascinating tour of the mind of a bright, cultured, somewhat sexually-liberated (but on the other hand disappointingly traditional), Socialist British woman of the 1950s. My Goodreads review is below. You might also have fun looking at The Golden Notebook Project in which several women all read this book and discussed it in a blog.
Anna is a novelist with writer’s block. She keeps a set of notebooks in which she records her own life, observations on the Communist Party of 1950s Britain, potential novel ideas, and her business dealings. The book moves back and forth between the notebooks, giving the reader her views of international politics, love and friendship, sex roles, psychoanalysis, writing, and life itself. I found the book fascinating, and yet at the end not fully satisfying. I’m struggling to figure out why. I think maybe I thought that by the end things would come together in a clearer way than they did. Overall, I found the view of women’s lives and relationships a little bleak; in fact, this was a pretty pessimistic book about many things. One of the most interesting things to me in reading the book was the difference that was so apparent between American culture in the 1950s as I understand it and the British culture of the 1950s as presented in the novel. Britain had a much more nuanced approach to Communism/Socialism and also seemingly more complex sexual politics. I’m glad to have read this book, found it very engaging and very well written, but in the end, I think I am too happy and optimistic a person to be able to call it a favorite.