Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: The Golden Notebook

I admit, I took up the novel, The Golden Notebook only after reading about Doris Lessing's death. And I
have a feeling that that must have happened for such other writers too.

I started the 500 plus pages novel with some trepidation. It's been awarded the Nobel Award for Literature and I was sure it was going to be a bit deep and difficult to understand. I was also not sure how soon I would be able to complete it. Moreover, the synopsis promised to be intriguing and and frankly a bit tedious and complicated.

I had expected the novel to be a commentary on life, how people lived in the 1950s. And perhaps it is. But I just could not relate to it. Let me get into the details.

The story is about Anna Wulf. But the way the novel starts, I thought it was about Molly. It starts with Molly, her son Tommy, and her ex-husband Richard. The initial part is focused on these characters and it's only when Anna goes back home after visiting Molly (when the story begins) did I realize that it was Anna the protagonist, not Molly.

Anna is a single-novel writer whose first novel has earned tremendous success. She is living off the royalties of the book. She is a divorced single mother of a twelve year old girl, Janet. She has a huge flat and rents out the upper room to people. Ivor, Ronnie, and the last one Saul Green are a part of the story and affect Anna's live in a peculiar way.

The novel is divided in different parts called "The Notebooks" and "The Free Women". There's one part called "The Golden Notebook" about which I will try to talk about later. The "Notebook" parts are the diaries that Anna maintains, four of them. Red, blue, yellow, and black. Frankly, I still haven't understood why four of them, and what each one contains.

The dairies are full of her nostalgia for the life that she spent in Africa, especially the hotel in Mashopi. Later they move on to minute details of her day to day life, dealings with her renters, Molly, Janet, her boyfriend(s), and her work. I got tired after a point. It was too much details and too many things. Anna keeps on talking about the same things again and again and it becomes tedious and frustrating.

The "Free Women" parts are third-person narratives of what is actually happening with their lives. That was much more interesting that Anna's diaries.

I haven't understood what Doris achieved by this novel. Perhaps she didn't want to achieve anything at all. She was trying out a new form of writing. But then, why write so much then, over 500 pages?

I couldn't understand Anna. She just goes on living each day without doing anything...she just writes in her diaries, feels depressed all the time, is nervous and is always waiting for her boyfriend. She cooks for him, goes grocery shopping, reads newspapers, and overall just stays put in her flat. I wonder if this really was the life of women in the 1950s. It's no wonder that Anna feels depressed and lonely.

Molly and Anna call themselves "free women". But always are they talking about men, sex, affairs, and overall waiting for love to happen. Are they really free then? Anna especially seems a psychotic woman, who cannot live in the present but in her past and in her wild thoughts of nervousness and jealousy. It is a rather disturbing character.

I didn't like Doris's language too. There are just too many words. I haven't liked her style where the adjectives she uses to describe people, events, objects are really her own thoughts. She wants the readers to feel the same feeling and emotion that she has felt. It's like she spells out what you must feel as you read, no space for interpretation. Her words are very strong and overwhelming.

Doris has repeated the same story again and again in the novel. Anna writes a story that reflects her relationship with Molly. It is not hard to see the similarities and I kept wondering what's the need of the double stories. I still haven't understood why so many layers to tell the same story repeatedly. Or I am a dumbo and cannot understand the depth of the novel.

The synopsis says that the "The Golden Notebook" is what will help Anna to recovery. But when I read it, I got more confused. I am now not sure whether the part about Saul Green should be taken as the events that really happened in Anna's life or whether it's a story that Anna writes. If it's a story, then Anna doesn't need a recovery. She is fine already. If it's real, then it's Anna who needs to see a doc to get out of the mental mess.

Doris's language is very strong and at times weird. I felt at a loss with her punctuation and writing style. Pages and pages of a single paragraph. it took my breath away to finish one paragraph. It would have been so easy to break down the words in different paragraphs. But perhaps I am speaking from the point of view of minimalism. (My profession comes in between my understanding of Doris's writing style.) And she has used sentences such as this: "However." Now what does that mean? I really could not get it.

Overall, I heaved a sigh of relief that the novel was finally over. I really had high expectations from it because it won the Nobel. But to tell the truth, I was disappointed.

Does such writing get Nobel? Then why not the essays that we wrote during our graduation and post graduation? May be because the essays we wrote were too simple to understand and did not contain any reference to communism!

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