Likely Stories: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Mar 16, 2017

  The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, who writes a novel of Anna Wulf writing a novel 

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Over the years, I have read bits and pieces by Doris Lessing.  I liked those works – a lot.  But something held me back from a full on committal to her novels.  Then I read an article about her work, which praised The Golden Notebook as her masterpiece.  I had tried to read it three decades or so ago, and I made one of the earliest deployments of “The Rule of 50.”  Unfortunately, my copy of the book had disappeared.  I bought another copy, which had an introduction by Doris.  This detailed look into her life, her writings, and her philosophy opened wide the doors of understanding.  This time I was determined to read the entire The Golden Notebook.

Doris May Lessing had an amazingly interesting and widely varying life. She was a British novelist, poet, playwright, librettist, biographer, and short story writer.  She was born October 22, 1919 in Kermanshah, Iran, and she died in London November 17, 2013. 

As my readers can imagine from the introduction, this novel will be a challenge; however, readers interested in writers, philosophy, politics, and fiction will be rewarded with an amazing experience.  The story revolves around four journals Dorris kept from a young age.  The journals were green, blue, red, and black.  Each deals with a different aspect of her life – politics, a memoir, her written work, and a diary.  She then took these four books and wove into them a story of two women.  Anna is a character who seems a lot like Doris.  Anna is a writer, and she is telling the story of Ella, who seems a whole lot like Anna and Doris.

Some of her paragraphs go on for well over two or even three pages.  If you delve into this wonderful and amazing novel, take some serious concentration pills, a pencil, and note book paper.  Here is a sample of a conversation between Anna and Saul, her then current love interest.  Lessing wrote, “‘you can’t go on like this, you’ve got to start writing again.’ // ‘Obviously if I could, I would.’ // ‘No, Anna, that’s not good enough. Why don’t you write that short story you’ve just told me about?  No, I don’t want all that hokum you usually give me—tell me in one simple sentence, why not.  You can call i7 Christmas cracker mottoes if you like, but while I was walking about I was thinking that you could simplify it in your mind, boil it all down to something, then you could take a good long look at it and beat it.’ // I began to laugh, but he said: ‘No, Anna, you’re going to really crack up unless you do.’ // ‘Very well then.  I can’t write that story or any other story, because at that moment I sit down to write, someone comes into the room, looks over my shoulders, and stops me.’ // ‘Who? Do you know?’ // ‘Of course I know.  It could be a Chinese peasant.  Or one of Castro’s guerilla fighters.  Or an Algerian fighting in the F.L.N.  Or Mr. Mathlong.  They stand here in the room and they say, why aren’t you doing something about us, instead of wasting your time scribbling?’”  (609). 

I also noticed some references to other characters and story-lines.  I was pleased to read of a character who reminded me of Martha Quest, the title character in her first of four novels in the Children of Violence series.  Reach beyond what you usually read, and stretch you reading skills with The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.  5 stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.