Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook

Reading in chunks

I still haven’t shaken the habit of reading and reading and reading…then chilling back for a few days and soaking it all in.  I can’t help it.  Of course, if one is a freelancer, it’s just a fact of life that some days are twenty times busier than others.  But there are also some days that are meant for reading, a night that is all to myself and I can really fixate on these characters.  Other nights my mind wanders, and I end up plodding along without absorbing anything.

Reading in chunks happens also because of Lessing’s writing style.  It is not episodic in the traditional sense, even as the writing style shifts constantly.  The situations are long and layered; it’s hard to earmark a page because it feels like you’re cutting Doris off in the middle of a sentence.  I’m more than 200 pages in and it’s still difficult to see the bigger picture…I’ll check in next week to see if it becomes clearer.

Author avatar

Nona Willis Aronowitz
on November 25th, 2008 at 11:03 am


  1. Naomi Alderman November 29th, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Yes, I was thinking today about how fragmented the novel is. I was reminded of an interview I heard with Germaine Greer a couple of years ago. She said that she deliberately wrote The Female Eunuch in short chapters because she felt that women had so many demands on their time that they wouldn’t be able to just sit down for a whole evening with a book. I think she linked it to the modern idea that “women are better at multi-tasking”, suggesting that this is just a new way of packaging the old situation. It’s OK for women to have to deal with childcare, looking after a home and holding down a job because “they’re better at multitasking”. I wonder if Lessing was responding to a similar feeling about women’s lives in the fragmented narrative of TGN.

    1. Philippa Levine December 1st, 2008 at 10:00 am

      Or could it be, Naomi, that Lessing’s intent here is to use fictional fragmentation to depict the fragmentation that’s so apparent in Anna’s life, and which seems to be worsening with every new episode? Rather than one notebook, Anna breaks up her experiences into several notebooks doing different work : does that offer Lessing a way to document, to describe, to explore a psychological fragmentation in her main character?

      1. Naomi Alderman December 1st, 2008 at 3:07 pm

        Yes, interesting. Early in the novel - in fact, the second sentence - Anna says “everything’s cracking up”. Anna’s fragmenting, but so is the whole world around her. Her ideology is breaking down, the literal splitting of the atom is leading to a dangerous breakdown in world politics, she’s breaking up with her lover… Perhaps this is leading to a productive fragmentation? New possibilities emerge as old certainties break down. Sorry to quote Leonard Cohen but it seems apropos (and maybe even inspired by that second line): “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

        I wonder if it’s this that Obama saw in the novel: the possibility of positive change coming out of times when everything seems to be cracking up.