The Golden Notebook

I’m re-reading Lessing’s masterpiece for my epilogue. In general, these purposeful readings are not much fun: I know what I hope to find in the text and I am trying to read quickly, looking for it, reminding myself that I’ve already had the pleasure, a few years ago, of reading for the plot.

So, trying to make ground yesterday, I read through a good chunk and, of course, got absorbed, nearly forgetting the point of my reading and finding myself sticking dozens of little post-it flags next to passages, words, and sentences I like but are of no use for my current purpose. While this may make me a loyal, true, and good reader, it does make me a poky critic.

The book is great and moving. The structure—a novella about a pair of women friends, one of whom is a blocked writer who keeps notebooks instead of working hard on her second novel—is fascinating. The black notebook, about her youth in Africa, reads like a draft of a novel: characters are tagged instead of drawn, she interrupts herself, the story gallops forward, “the cook” suddenly becomes Jackson at the moment when he is important, without explanation or Lessing’s troubling to double back and give us that name. It feels a little like cheating but it’s fascinating.

It’s also deadly depressing. It and the pressures of trying to finish my own book have plunged me into pretty dark waters. I keep remembering that movie, Antonia and Jane in which the plain woman’s lover couldn’t get aroused unless she read Lessing or Murdoch aloud. She finally rebelled and dumped him. Weeks later, he stands on her doorstep, rainsoaked, clutching a copy of Anita Brookner!