Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Golden Notebook

If you want to read a good feminist novel, try The Golden Notebook. No, this is not an easy read, but it is satisfying if you dare to take it on. The whole structure of the novel is a challenge -- a conventional novel interspersed with pieces from four diaries, each detailing one aspect of the life of Anna Wulf, the main character in that novel.

The Golden Notebook is about much more than feminism -- it's also about communism, colonialism, and psychoanalysis, among other things. But the parts that resonated most deeply for me were those where Doris Lessing takes a magnifying glass to the indignities and uncertainties of being a woman. In the introduction, the author says the book was criticized for its depiction of female aggression: "But this novel was not a trumpet for Women's Liberation. It described many female emotions of aggression, hostility, resentment. It put them into print. Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing, came as a great surprise." Even in this supposedly liberated age, nearly 50 years after its publication, I think the novel still holds some shock value with its honesty. This character who is a successful but now blocked writer/lapsed communist/single mother, who jumps around from one relationship to the next, is still unusual. To reach sanity, you must unify the diverging narratives of your life. Is life really this complicated? Yes, but most of the time I just don't want to believe it.

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