A tough read this one, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s long and you are going to wish you were nearer the end than the beginning on many occasions. This is because it’s often tedious. There’s no real story that cohesively holds the whole thing together that is really of much interest.
It’s the life of Anna Wulf, a novelist. She spent some time in South Africa during WW2, was for many years a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and has published a novel which hasn’t done too badly. Although each of these in itself has the potential to be an engaging read, Lessing is too much of a realist for that. Instead you are bound and gagged and placed on the fringe of endless conversations Lessing uses to portray communism, attitudes towards women, sexuality, male-female relationships and so on which culminate (although that’s far too strong a word) in something that may be a nervous breakdown (again, too strong a phrase).
On top of this, having watered down potentially engaging topics
through banality, Lessing has also decided to record each of these topics in different coloured notebooks and present extracts from each in series. As if that didn’t create enough dissonance, you also have a narrative that runs independent of these and which, if I’m honest, I can’t honestly remember anything about.
When you finally make it to the eponymous golden notebook, you have a grain of hope left that this might actually be a turning point, a pinnacle that has made the arduous climb worth it. It’s a false summit; all that is gold does not glister.
I get why this was an important novel, how novel the structure was and how important the topics were for the time. It scores highly simply because of these qualities. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed reading it or that I’d recommend it. I didn’t, and I wouldn’t.