Oh Ms. Lessing. Oh my good Ms. Lessing.
I may feel differently if I was more in touch with the generation of women whom your novel so (apparently) accurately describes. I may feel differently if I had any care for the importance of political movements throughout history. I may feel differently if this novel didn’t have me thinking so bloody much at moments in my life when I’d really rather not be thinking.
But as it is, I found The Golden Notebook to be torturous to read.
Perhaps this is part of the point. Certainly it details the downward spiral of Anna’s life as she struggles with her writer’s block as well as her relationships.
To me, the greatest question posed by the novel is about a woman’s life and its meaning. Can a woman be happy without a man? The answer, undoubtedly, is “no”. The men of Lessing’s Golden Notebook are perfunctory creatures who could never hope to fully satisfy any woman. It is no wonder Anna struggles so terribly to find true companionship.
The book seems to be written along strings upon strings of affairs, none meaning anything to the invested male party (though some do mean something to Anna). Anna’s life lacks guidance and definition without a man in it, she requires the presence of a man to give her meaning. Without him she becomes lonely, depressed, self-loathing, and entirely un-woman. The perfunctory relationships she does find cannot hope to give her the depth she requires, and she struggles throughout the novel to figure out why. This struggle, to me, is very deeply linked to sex. Anna certainly has a lot of sex, though she nearly never enjoys it. It is a function. A part of life. She craves it but when she receives it is unable to find pleasure or true fulfillment within it.
Certainly this is due to the superficial nature of the sex which Anna does have. She seems to be a magnet for gentlemen callers looking to get away from their wives, for men who are terrified of commitment, for blocked writers looking to find meaning in another blocked writer. In short, it is the entirely wrong people whom Anna attracts into her life.
The friendship between Anna and Molly is further exploration of this lack of male companionship. Both lacking a man, Molly and Anna begin the book in a deep relationship. Best friends. They even live together for a time. Can two women, lacking male partners, supply each other with ersatz companionship? Can a relationship between two women be as deep or as pervasive as that between a man and a woman? The book seems to imply no- this friendship between two single women cannot hope to replace what both women are missing out on without a man in their lives.
The entire story can be summed up, to me, in a passage from pg. 607, “Then I woke into a late afternoon, the room cold and dark. I am depressed; I was entirely the white female bosom shot full of cruel male arrows. I was aching with the need for Saul, and I wanted to abuse him and rail at him and call him names. Then of course he would say: Oh poor Anna, I’m sorry, then we would make love”.
In short, I really REALLY don’t understand why I spent the last few weeks reading this novel. Here’s hoping the next one is better.
Next up: Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner.
Lessing, Doris. The Golden Notebook. Perennial Modern Classics. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999.