The 1962 novel is a challenging masterpiece – luckily, its author wrote a blisteringly bad-tempered guide to reading it
Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook has won the vote and will be the subject of this month’s Reading group. On the whole, this is excellent news. If we’re going to read Lessing, we might as well go for the big one: the 1962 novel regarded as her masterpiece and described in The Oxford Companion to English Literature as “one of the key texts of the women’s movement in the 1960s”.
The only possible reason for hesitation is that this world-shaker is also challenging. It’s long and involved and features far more mid-20th-century Marxism than most modern readers are used to. But that should also make coming to terms with this book all the more fascinating.
She considered the novel to be a triumph of structure. By fragmenting the story, she said, she wanted to show the danger of compartmentalizing one’s thinking, the idea that “any kind of single-mindedness, narrowness, obsession, was bound to lead to mental disorder, if not madness.”