The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Now this is a book that baffles me.
I often felt much like I did when reading Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when I just wanted the characters to shake themselves out of their delusional selfishness and behave like decent, upright folks.
At other times, particularly in the final stages of the blue notebook, I felt as if I was coming untethered from the plinths of sanity I have so carefully built and maintained throughout my life. It's been a long time since a book has affected me so deeply; caused me to question my own tenuous mental health and gaze in wonderment at my own constructs designed to keep me moored.
And still at other times, I felt a complete disconnect with these creatures of another time, another social more, another political viewpoint.
And then, at the end, the whammy hit me. Free Women, the short novel, says nothing about the turmoil of the life Anna Wulf lived. It can only intimate it; draw a sketch, an outline. And perhaps that's the point of this oddly formed book; any order that comes life's chaos cannot possibly be fully true.
And maybe that's why this book unnerved me so. I'm comfortable with believing that order can be manufactured. It's the construct that keeps me sane. It's the plinth to which I've tethered myself.
But this book also unnerved me because of its obtuse and seemingly pointless wandering. I wanted to take an editing pen to each notebook but, if I had, I would have created order out of chaos. Well played, Lessing. Well played.
Even without the big themes and lessons, there are nuggets of wisdom, thoughtful ideas and downright original thought peppered throughout the web of chaos. But these are oddly hard to use as pull-quotes. Most of them scream for context. I dog-eared over 50 pages and the only pulls I can really face including are below.
In Lessing's 1971 Introduction to the book she laments the loss of the isolated artist; "The young...have created a culture of their own in which hundreds of thousands of people make films, assist in making films, make newspapers of all sorts, make music, paint pictures, write books, take photographs. They have abolished that isolated, creative, sensitive figure -- by copying him in hundreds of thousands." What, praytell, does she say about our current world where every denizen of the internet is a blogger, photographer, critic, graphic artist?
"There are more broken hearts than there have ever been, just because of the times we live in. In fact, I'm sure any any heart we are ever likely to meet is so cracked and jarred and split it's just a mass of scar tissue."
The gap between what we believe and what we do ...
"It seems to me something like this--every so often, perhaps once in a century, there's a sort of--act of faith. A well of faith fills up, and there's an enormous heave forward in one country or another, and that's a forward movement for the whole world. Because it's an act of imagination--of what is possible for the whole world...Then the well runs dry, because, as you say, the cruelty and the ugliness are too strong. Then the well slowly fills again. And then there's another painful lurch forward. Yes--because every time the dream gets stronger. If people can imagine something, there'll come a time when they'll achieve it. Imagine goodness. Kindness. The end of being animals. And for us now, what is there? Keeping the dream alive. Because there'll always be new people without--paralysis of the will."
"There's something very arrogant about insisting on the right to be right."
"Do you realize how many generations it takes to make a society where buses run on time?"
"He was the man who performed actions, played roles, that he believed to be necessary for the good of others, even while he preserved an ironic doubt about the results of his actions."
"There's a great black mountain. It's human stupidity. There are a group of people who push a boulder up the mountain. When they've got a few feet up, there's a war, or the wrong sort of revolution, and the boulder rolls down--not to the bottom, it always managers to end a few inches higher than when it started. So the group of people put their shoulders to the boulder and start pushing again. Meanwhile, at the top of the mountain stand a few great men. Sometimes they look down and nod and say: Good, the boulder-pushers are still on duty."
Here's to being a boulder-pusher.
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