One of the most important books of the growing feminist movement of the 1950s, The Golden Notebook was brought to the attention of a wider public by the Nobel Prize award to Doris Lessing in 2007.
Author Anna Wulf attempts to overcome writer’s block by writing a comprehensive "golden notebook" that draws together the preoccupations of her life, each of which is examined in a different notebook: sources of her creative inspiration in a black book, communism in a red book, the breakdown of her marriage in a yellow book, and day-to-day emotions and dreams in a blue book. Anna’s struggle to unify the various strands of her life – emotional, political, and professional – amasses into a fascinating encyclopaedia of female experience in the ‘50s.
In this authentic, taboo-breaking novel, Lessing brings the plight of women’s lives from obscurity behind closed doors into broad daylight. The Golden Notebook resonates with the concerns and experiences of a great many women and is a true modern classic, thoroughly deserving of its reputation as a feminist bible. A notoriously long and complex work, it is given a new life by this – its first unabridged recording.
©1962 Doris Lessing (P)2010 Naxos Audiobook
"The Golden Notebook is Doris Lessing’s most important work and has left its mark upon the ideas and feelings of a whole generation of women." (Elizabeth Hardwick, New York Times Book Review)
Juliet Stevenson's narration of this classic (which I'd not read since college) is so extraordinary, I have found myself listening to this recording repeatedly, replaying favorite passages, etc. In narrating various characters' dialogue, she maintains consistency of voice and pitch, so the listener (even if somewhat distracted by chores or what have you) is generally able to keep all these lines of narrative straight - no small feat, considering the book's complexity.
I will not only return to this recording again, but I will also seek out additional recordings by the same narrator.
Finally, I will add that the recording is quite well-produced; glitches are nearly non-existent, which seems fantastic given the length of this work.
When I first read Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, I was surprised with the ground it was breaking as far as the role of women and their sexuality, the "taking back" as it were, of the sexual landscape. When I read the Golden Notebook, I realized the ground had been broken a decade before.
The novel takes place somewhere around the 1950s and earlier in England. Anna Wulf, a writer, has decided to shun convention. Although she has been married, she is now divorced, and she sleeps with men somewhat carelessly, a contradiction to the Donna Reed stereotypes of the time. She speaks graphically about sex and orgasms and a woman's supposed "place" in society. She is alternately seduced and disillusioned by the Communist party and, perhaps because this novel takes place in England (and was published there), she confronts these subjects bluntly.
There are a lot of frame narratives in the book -- four journals Anna has written in tell her stories, as well as the outside frame of Anna herself. This can get confusing, and while this style is also groundbreaking and in line with postmodern traditions, it can be laborious at times. Still, there are some meaningful moments and if you are willing to be patient, this book will reward you.
Juliet Stevenson is my current favorite reader, and I thought I liked Doris Lessing. This novel is no less difficult now that it was when I first read it 35 years ago. Historical, interesting and terribly close scrutiny of human relationships. And Stevenson never disappoints, but Lessings work is trying.
First, Juliet Stevenson is to my mind the best narrator. Period. I would want her to read any book I might write--even it was about boxing.
I think The Golden Notebook is, by general agreement, the best and most original "feminist novel." It's the one book every feminist writer of any sort looks to for advice. What's amazing to me on rereading is how completely pertinent and alive it is--and how very moving, exciting, and overwhelming. Each of her characters gets up and walks around the room in front of you. They are all now part of my life.
The structure of The Golden Notebook--a form that has been followed (imitated?) in thousands of novels, movies and TV shows for the last fifty years--still works best here in the original as a portrayal of the idea of a woman's fragmented life. THIS IS THE ORIGINAL! Even David Foster Wallace should have acknowledged Lessing in his books, along with Gaddis and every other post-modern stylist.
The Golden Notebook also offers brilliant glimpses into a history that has been obscured by passing events. Where else can you understand the circumstances in which becoming a Communist would be reasonable and right, then feel how shattering disillusionment would be because it was all so obviously wrong? Papa Joe Stalin? Ridiculous! But that's how we won the war. And where would Lessing's Zimbabwe be without the true believers who fought so hard to emerge from the shell of Rhodesia?
The 2007 Nobel Prize citation said Lessing recorded the female experience "with scepticism, fire and visionary power" and "subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny," but this book sings a much greater song: a woman growing stronger and more beautiful by searching for an independent self on whom everyone depends.
Say something about yourself!
I first started reading Doris Lessing in the 70's and have admired her writing, although I remember little of it. I will never forget 'The Golden Notebook', as the most tedious well written novel ever. Juliet Stevenson's aristocratic reading, portrays the neurotic Anna's numerous life crises, in a middle-class whine that rarely quits. Listening to the successful but blocked writer, Anna, weep, screech, complain about her lovers in the frightening atmosphere of the cold war and the inhumanity of South Africa's racial war, was interesting at most for me. I found the supporting characters, specially the Americans, caricatures. Notable for it's selection of taboos, every vice of the pre-sexual revolution written here, it must have been an eye opener for many. However, it is Anna we follow through this long book and I don't know why we do. A single mother, who insists she loves her daughter (we never see it), has a nasty masochistic affair with every straight man she rents a room to and lives off the royalties of her one novel, while going kind of mad in a sexual flurry.
Juliet Stevenson was Anna, and I'll never be able to listen to that voice again, or see her in a film, without running away.
Lover of history, travel, and MP3 players (to distract me from things I'd really rather not have to do)!
There were many things I loved about this novel - above all it's a fascinating slice of post-war, pre-sexual revolution, cold war history through the eyes of a rule-bending middle class British woman (Lessing's alter ego?). The structure of the narrative provides a fragmented, prism-like view of Anna's life and times as it alternates between her various notebooks - listeners should be aware of this challenge in the beginning, until it becomes clear what each notebook represents and contains. Some of these (the Africa vignettes) were more interesting to me than others (the Communist Party deconstructions), and there were definitely times when Anna's difficulties and choices got a more than a little annoying, but ultimately it was an enlightening and unforgettable literary experience.
And finally, a word about Juliet Stevenson, the narrator: I believe she could make a phone book sound lively and distinctive... She's one of the reasons I delved into this recording in the first place, and she did not disappoint; her ability to create characters is unmatched (in spite of a little awkwardness with the American accents), and I will always leap at books she performs. (She's such a fun actress, too - catch her in 'Emma', with Gwyneth Paltrow!)
I like to weed and read at the same time.
I downloaded this simply because Lessing died recently and I felt guilty that I had never read her. The narrator was also an incentive.
To my surprise, although I loved the book , found the heroine to be completely believable and found it confusing, (had to go back and re-listen) it was the structure of the book as well as the writing that I found completely compelling and absorbing. This book was dismissed in the past as a 1960's feminist tract. It's so much more than a book about a woman in the 60's. Juliet Stevenson is a superb reader: there are accents and dialects involved and she nails every one. I think this book is a keeper and I will listen again.
ahead of it's time, but timeless. thought provoking and wonderful insight. wonderful interactin of characters.
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A wonderfully perceptive writer, Lessing captures the nuances of dialogue and emotion brilliantly. I at several points had to stop and think about the writer's ability to create such brilliant authenticity in fiction. The central character, Anna, is presented with such subtlety and complexity that her thoughts on sexual politics, relationships and frustrated desires become immediately gripping. The narration by Juliet Stevenson enlivens the prose of this book and gives the perfect voice to Anna.
This is a great book that captures a moment in time perfectly. Definitely worth the listen.
Had been greatly looking forward to this, but gave up half way into part 2 because I just couldn't stand Juliet Stevenson's delivery. Sorry - great actress but such a dull performance here.
Gave up on this with the first book, haven't and wont be listening to the rest of them. I normally love Juliet Stevenson narrating but not even she cant pull this one off.
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