The shape of this novel is as follows:
There is a skeleton, or frame, called Free Women, which is a conventional short novel, about 60,000 words long, and which could stand by itself. But it is divided into five sections and separated by stages of the four Notebooks, Black, Red, Yellow and Blue. The Notebooks are kept by Anna Wulf, a central character of Free Women. She keeps four, and not one because, as she recognizes, she has to separate things off from each other, out of fear of chaos, of formlessness — of breakdown. Pressures, inner and outer, end the Notebooks; a heavy black line is drawn across the page of one after another. But now that they are finished, from their fragments can come something new, The Golden Notebook.
Throughout the Notebooks people have discussed, theorized, dogmatized, labelled, compartmented — sometimes in voices so general and representative of the time that they are anonymous, you could put names to them like those in the old Morality Plays, Mr Dogma and Mr I-am-Free-Because-I-Belong-Nowhere, Miss I-Must-Have-Love-and-Happiness and Mrs I-Have-to-be-Good-At-Everything-I-Do, Mr Where-is-a-Real-Woman? and Miss Where-is-a-Real-Man?, Mr I’m-Mad-Because-They-Say-I-Am, and Miss Life-Through-Experiencing-Everything, Mr I-Make-Revolution-and-Therefore-I-Am, and Mr and Mrs If-We-Deal-Very-Well-With-This-Small-Problem-Then-Perhaps-We-Can- Forget-We-Daren’t-Look-at-The-Big-Ones. But they have also reflected each other, been aspects of each other, given birth to each other’s thoughts and behaviour — are each other, form wholes. In the inner Golden Notebook, things have come together, the divisions have broken down, there is formlessness with the end of fragmentation — the triumph of the second theme, which is that of unity. Anna and Saul Green the American ‘break down’. They are crazy, lunatic, mad — what you will. They ‘break down’ into each other, into other people, break through the false patterns they have made of their pasts, the patterns and formulas they have made to shore up themselves and each other, dissolve. They hear each other’s thoughts, recognize each other in themselves. Saul Green, the man who has been envious and destructive of Anna, now supports her, advises her, gives her the theme for her next book, Free Women — an ironical title, which begins: ‘The two women were alone in the London flat.’ And Anna, who has been jealous of Saul to the point of insanity, possessive and demanding, gives Saul the pretty new notebook, The Golden Notebook, which she has previously refused to do, gives him the theme for his next book, writing in it the first sentence: ‘On a dry hillside in Algeria a soldier watched the moonlight glinting on his rifle.’ In the inner Golden Notebook, which is written by both of them, you can no longer distinguish between what is Saul and what is Anna, and between them and the other people in the book.