1001 Group Read-July, 2012: The Golden Notebook
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I will be putting up a post for nominations for our August/September books during the second full week of July. Where has this year gone?
I'll join in here as soon as I am done with East of Eden which I am reading for another GR. Should be done by next weekend latest.
I currently have little time for reading, so, I'll be back when I've actually read something :)
Having recently read Lessings' The Grass is Singing... I am thus far surprised about the difference in style between the two books. In TGIS, there was a wonderful rhythm to the book that made me feel like I was sitting on one of the farms in Africa. Haven't felt the same kind of cadence this book, but hoping it happens once Anna starts getting more into her experiences in Africa.
George1295: You've given an awfully good description of the characters there!
Reading the preface was an interesting experience - Lessing's views on the education system made me think - I didn't study Literature after the age of 18 and I have often wondered if I am interpreting writing in the right way.... it was refreshing to hear that there is no right or wrong - just a personal response. It is just what I needed before embarking on this particular challenge!
The milkman and his son along with the strawberry vendor provided interest, distraction, and reflection -- like a touch of spice on an otherwise bland dish.
At least the first section confirms that dysfunctional political discourse in not new. I am looking forward to finishing Free Women 1.
"Anna and Molly smiled at each other, and at him, acknowledging it was true."
"He waited, a moment, patiently, for Richard's sharply irritated indrawn breath over the word revolution, to be expelled, and went on:"
"What Molly had said was pure spite: she was saying, I'm glad that you're going to be subjected to the pressures the rest of us have to face."
Anna goes on to reflect: "I wish I hadn't become so conscious of everything, every little nuance ... Now every conversation, every encounter with a person seems like crossing a mined field."
Now, first I credit the author for making me feel the same way about the dialog in Free Women 1 - slightly uncomfortable, slightly painful, like crossing a mined field. Then I wonder if this is Doris Lessing sharing her own thoughts. I suspect many authors I have an eye for subtle signs, a sensitivity.
But, a scarcastic turn of phrase doesn't need commentary after to be sure the reader caught the sarcastic turn of phrase.
Too, I have no idea why I need to know about anyone's menstrual cycle. I have read other novels which contain descriptions of this natural human function and have yet to figure out what that has to do with the story. The only novel I recall reading in which a description of "the monthly curse" added anything to the novel was Carrie.
I just know that something great is going to happen before this book is over.
ETA: I'm not very far in yet (about 2 hours of a 27 hour audiobook). She's currently admiring her four notebooks for the first time. I had a fortunate (or possibly unfortunate) revelatory-interpretation only a few minutes in. I could be right (I think I am) or I could be terribly wrong. But I'm pretty sure this book isn't as much about what these characters do; but about how they perceive themselves and each other.
This book isn't written in the style that I usually enjoy. But because of my rare (and possibly incorrect) insight, I'm greatly enjoying how the dialogue in the book can be interpreted in multiple ways. I am eager to get through the book and see where it goes.
Some first thoughts on comments so far:
6 I have studied literature, but that really made me only more doubtful about whether we interpret things the right way. It seems like in literature classes people try to find some hidden meaning in pretty much every single word, and I sometimes wonder if maybe the writer was just writing a fun story and not thinking that much about hidden meanings... Lessing herself says in the intro that while writing she really wasn't thinking about how it would be received in literary society, and I can totally imagine that a writer just writes a book, and then literary critics run away with it.
Also, with regards to interpretations being right or wrong: interpretations change over time, you have popular interpretations in time-periods; The Golden Notebook came out when feminism was very much on the rise and was interpreted from a feminist perspective, as were a great many novels by female authors at that time. I think nowadays feminism has become a less 'popular' theory for literary interpretation and the focus has shifted from that, so that if it would have been published now, it might have had a completely different reception...
15 I haven't really started reading yet, so I'm sure you're right in saying that they're oblivious about what's going on in the world, but I guess with regards to communism that perhaps the atrocities of the regime were much less known back then than they are now. A lot of information has become available only after the fall of the Sovjet Union, so maybe it's not that strange that they're still fans of communism. Besides, it was awfully hip those days to be a fan of communism and stuff. My parents still own a copy of Che Guevara's diaries 'because everybody read it', so perhaps they're just being fashionable :P
That being said, I really do not know what was known and what wasn't at that point in time, so you can correct me if I'm wrong...
Ok, I'm off now, hopefully I'll be able to actually say something about the book next time I'm here :)
It's fun having a group to discuss things like this with, though, because I can hear how other people interpret the book, which may give me insight.
#21 "really just writing a fun story" are you serious?! I must be reading the wrong book.
By the way, I'm in the middle of the first black notebook, and I really like it so far. I don't think we are to be stuck in the political discussions; the book is more about the relationship between men and women, and how their upbringing affects them.
I can really identify with Anna as someone who suffers from depression myself I felt like I could recognise a lot of her feelings. The idea that you can gain control from segmenting your life was very interesting and her relationships with the people around, while often dysfunctional, added a very human touch to what would otherwise be a very dry book. I can absolutley see why this may have been thought at being a book about men vs women - but for me the over-riding theme wasaround madness and control in various guises. Each character had their own 'brand' of madness - and various coping mechanisms. Surrounded by this lot it is little wonder than Anna feels like she is cracking up!!
I did not like the final sections but I won't say too much about it as many of you are still reading but I give you fair warning it is hard going!!
Like some of the earlier comments, I agree with the statements that it feels somewhat sterile and static; I feel like the narrator is somehow telling the story from a distance, somehow, if that makes any sense.
Other than that, I mainly found it somewhat depressing... The characters are naieve and arrogant, they seem not very knowledgeable about the world outside their own circles, and at the same time can be very patronising towards others, especially the story of the young communists in Africa in the Red Notebook, they seem to look down upon everybody!
And I find it so very negative at times; Men hate women, women hate men, happy marriages don't exist, everybody hates themselves, capitalism is bad, but then communism is also partly bad, and the world in general is bad... I'm finding it a bit dreary, I have to admit.
Anyway, other than that I do think it's well-written and generally like the style. I think the different notebooks come together quite well, and am looking forward to getting to the rest of it, but I'll be leaving it off for tonight and see if I can read something more cheerful :) I'll start on the second part tomorrow.
Our August/September options look more entertaining....,maybe!
I have very mixed feelings about the book, many of which have been expressed above. I agree that the main themes are so thoroughly discussed in the book that they, at times, feel like big sticks beating me over the head.
It does seem to be a book of its time, rather like an early Atwood. Life has moved on a lot, though there are still aspects of her life that I can identify with.
One thing I found a little surprising was the lack of local colour, I mean I kept forgetting where each part of the plot was based. I don't remember ever feeling this way about a Lessing book.
Chrissy, excellent observation about the dreams. I frankly thought they had a "too real" quality to them. Like you, my dreams often start out in a rational way, but end up as nonsense---most of the time it's very silly nonsense.
Anyways, I have also finished. And I am.... really torn. I do like Lessing's writing, it really speaks to me, in a way, and I also kind of liked the idea of four different notebooks describing different aspects of Anna's life, and the way in which the notebook's were all connected and came together.
But yeah, I also agree with many of the comments above. Some topics are discussed so much, and in the same words over and over again, that it becomes rather dreary. The book is really negative, and I seriously hope to actually marry a man that doesn't cheat, but in Lessing's world all men cheat, and men and women are just hostile and distrustful towards each other. Not quite the way that I look upon marriage and love (my parents are very happy together, and are actually celebrating their 43rd anniversary today, so I like to think relationships can be good).
That being said, I do also feel that Lessing makes important points and touches upon important issues: the issues of racism, communism and stalinism, the way big corporations act, the way single women are looked upon, and what it means to live alone, as a woman... Though many of her views are somewhat outdated, I do feel like many of her themes are still relevant.
That being said though, I think quite a number of people didn't finish... Maybe it's just not really suited for this time anymore...
I read another 20% in the last couple of days and can follow it better this time, but god is this a painful story! And that last part is still coming. I feel very close to Anna in many ways, maybe that's just the thing about being middle-aged and single and kind of disillusioned.
I also try to see the book as a witness of the time when it was written. It must have been very progressive then, also the views on the communist party which now seem outdated. It's interesting reading that now, because after The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath which I both read later last year, I can see the development. From enthusiastically welcoming communism as a new revolutionary idea, a possible liberation from the bad side-effects of capitalism, a hope for mankind, to a disappointment, an intellectual concept that couldn't be realized.
I also had blocked out that communism wasn't only frowned upon, but forbidden and prosecuted in the US. And I realized I have no idea how this is handled nowadays. Can you be a communist in the US or at least openly sympathize?