The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
I came across this novel as a teenager, struggling to write. You see, I had this intense desire to write, felt that I had something to communicate, but did not yet have the skills to meet my imagination on the page in a way that worked consistently. So, I sat in cafes and poured over the writers I admired, hoping to inherit their style by diligently underlining phrases—whole sentences—and in general, swooning over their prose. One of these books, read clutching my own spiral notebook and pen in various coffee shops around town was The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.
“This novel, then, is an attempt to break a form; to break certain forms of consciousness and go beyond them. While writing it, I found I did not believe some of the things I thought I believed: or rather, that I hold in my mind at the same time beliefs and ideas that are apparently contradictory. Why not? We are, after all, living in the middle of a whirlwind.” This description, taken from the jacket cover of one edition of the book, only begins to touch on why I have such a powerful connection to this book.
Unflinching questions about what it means to be human, a woman, and a writer are posed in Lessing’s novel. Anna, the main character writes about different parts of her life in four distinct notebooks and tries to bring them all together in a fifth “golden notebook”. This process drives her to insanity and back. I read this book on the edge of my seat, amazed at the complexity and depth of the characters and the refreshing honesty in Lessing’s treatment of them. The seamless shifts and turns between the notebooks, between action and narration left me mouth agape in awe. I longed to write like that. This book changed my life. It sealed my fate as a writer, pushed me to question my role as a woman in society and in my family, and unraveled for me the nature and necessity of freedom.