The Golden Notebook The Golden Notebook discussion

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message 1: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry Discussion to begin on the first of the month of February, 2008.

Dottie I started this one this morning and have already decided I need to get a used copy of my own because I can't scribble in the library book -- I have no doubt that this will be one I'm scribbling in! Looking forward to the discussion.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes, lots of scribbles and page references and lists! I read it a few months ago and I'm afraid I've forgotten some already, but it is an interesting read although nerve wracking on occasion.
Sometimes I wondered who the real narrator was. :)

Ruth It's the first in much of the country. Let the discussion begin!

Finished this one last night, just under the wire. My copy has my name and the date I bought it inside, 1975. So that’s when I first read it. I bought it at the Friends of the Library and it’s stamped “Withdrawn from Collection.” Copyright 1962. I wonder why they ditched it. It’s a little beat but far from falling apart.

Anna has written a novel that’s a financial success and therefore can live off the proceeds without a “real” job. She seems to be obsessed with three things: 1)Not admitting she wants to write again and can’t 2) the Communist party 3) living as what she calls a “free woman.”

She keeps four notebooks.
Yellow: where she writes bits of a novel or stories
Blue: a personal diary, with memories, dreams and personal stuff
Red: politics, mostly about the Communist Party
Black: memories of her life in Africa.

The novel weaves among these three books, often doubling back in space and time so that sometimes the chronology is difficult to follow, while it explores women's struggles with the conflicts of work, sex, love, motherhood, politics, the tension of friends and family.

Anna wanders, I can’t think of a better way to put it, between meditations on these subjects and actions in these arenas. Margaret Drabble called this “inner space fiction” because it explores mental and societal breakdown.

There are so many places we could enter this discussion that I hardly know where to begin.

What about the structure? Did it work for you? Were you confused by it? What do you think it adds to the novel? Or do you think she could have covered the same ground in a more straightforward way?

What was the function of all the emphasis on the Communist Party? Does that work in tandem somehow with the idea of a woman’s leading an independent life? And what for that matter, is an independent life? And is Anna living one?

Then there’s the subject of Anna’s writing. She insists through most of the book that she does not have writer’s block, it’s just that she doesn’t want to write another novel. Why is she blocked on the writer’s block idea? And what does that have to do with being an independent woman or a Communist?

Are these three disparate ideas, or are they linked in some way?

Ricki Hi Ruth,

Here is a link to a website about Doris Lessing -
it's quite comprehensive.

you'll see that she had been a member of the Communist Party but left after the war as she was disillusioned with it. I believe that at the time the Communist Party was one of the few that recognised the needs of the blacks in Africa and the inequalities they were facing, but I could be wrong and would have to do some more research into this to be sure of my facts.
Interesting enough, Lessing was married and left her family but remained living in the same town in what was at that time Rhodesia, Salisbury - from the point of view of the two women, that is probably an interesting fact also.
Enough from me - I need to get on and finish reading this.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Hi Ruth,
Great outline and great questions!
I read and then re-read the book a little while ago and will need some refreshing. But, for those who can stand to go through it yet another time after the first reading, I'll offer the thought that reading each of the notebooks separately and on its own is a good way to see their individual coherence and then make more sense of the overall work.
Lessing has a very keen eyesight in dissecting the people and world around her. The book was fascinating.
Hope to get back to the discussion soon.

Sherry I'm only about halfway done, but I'll say something anyway. I like the form of the book, at least, so far I do. It mirrors Anna's fragmented mind, I think. I get a real sense of Anna really having written it. Lessing is completely hidden, which I think is pretty amazing.

I haven't read a book like this in some time. I think I would have liked it better as a younger woman, although it's really growing on me. Many of the issues that Anna is struggling with are ones that I'm not worried about any more. (Maybe that says more about me than about the book.) I like the sense of intelligent I get from Anna and from the other characters, even if I think what they do is rather stupid and naive.

Nathalie Ricki, you're right about the Communist Party in Africa being the only progressive political option for whites. In South Africa, it was the only 'white' political party that recognised black people as equal.

My mother was born in South Africa and my father was involved in non-racial politics. The family had to leave in a hurry in the 1960s when the Apartheid regime were imprisoning, torturing, and hanging 'subversives', some of who were in the Communist Party.

Reading The Golden Notebook was intriguing and painful for me as it was like looking into the minds of my parents and their friends, some of whom lost their lives.............

message 9: by Ruth (last edited Feb 04, 2008 03:02PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth Oh that's interesting, Nathalie. Have you been to South Africa yourself?

In 1975, when I first read this, I was hip deep in the women's movement so I think the freedom with which Anna moved is what struck me the most.

Reading it today, I wonder about that freedom. It seems to me that the women in this book do little but hang their lives around the men. Everything revolves around their revolving sexual relationships. And those relationships are for the most part not very good. I see Anna moving from one disastrous affair to another, having seemingly learned little from any of the previous ones.


message 10: by Gail (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gail Absolutely, Ruth. These women spend waaaaay to much time considering, disecting, rethinking, looking backward and forward (ah hah! a key to the structure!) into their relationships with men. Unfortunately, it all rings disturbingly true to this over-age person (59). Parts of this book, particularly Ella's sections, were, for me, frighteningly realistic. It was like reading one's own past thoughts.
As for the structure: I believe that it was integral to the book, since we wander back and forth, back and forth with Anna as she explores her past lives, thoughts, and transient emotions. To tell the story in a straight-on narrative would, I think, take away from the sense of being inside Anna's head as she works her way through her life via the various sections.
It was a great read, I think, although difficult and even somewhat painful. And no, the "Free Women" sure as hell aren't free.

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

I found it very painful to read as well, I wouldn't say reading my own past thoughts, but sort of a "there but for the grace of God go I". [Gail we are only 2 years apart in age.]The most difficult parts for me were that she kept making the same mistake over and over again. Then that last relationship...I could hardly read it for the pain and frustration I felt.

I liked the dovetailing in the end, and enjoyed her African experiences, but her choices were...I hardly know what to call them.
Disturbing is the least of it.

I really can't make up my mind whether or not I "liked" the book, I suppose the best I can say is that it made me uncomfortable, and thankful for my own life, and last but not least it made me think.
Not a bad deal for any book. :)

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Jodyanna, just read your comment over on the other GN thread...

"It seems to me that neither Molly or Anna were free in the sense I would define "free", at any point in the book."

I could not agree more!

Nathalie No, Ruth, I have still not been to South Africa.

As an aside:
Last year, Lessing gave a reading at my local library. Afterwards, a woman in the audience told Lessing that she had taken Lessing's characters as a basis on which to live her life.

Lessing seemed a bit dismayed, and said something to the effect that the woman had got the wrong message anyway.

message 14: by Gail (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gail ummm....maybe because they set a horrible example of what not to do? They were so unhappy with themselves.

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

From Nathalie: Lessing seemed a bit dismayed, and said something to the effect that the woman had got the wrong message anyway.

I got the impression from the Introduction that Lessing believed that everyone had got the wrong message and missed her real message entirely. So, do we have any ideas on what her real message really was? It seemed to me that Anne finally opted for a pragmatic approach to the issues of importance to her rather than a dogmatic one, whether Communist or feminist.

message 16: by Lori (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lori Just discovered this, sorry I couldn't reread again. I read it 1976 and it totally blew my mind. I went on to read all of her books, except for her latest, and cheered when she won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. I think The Golden Notebook was very much coming out of the 60s, where people were all over the place, and "seeking" themselves. The Communist Party in the West, and Lessing was very much communist til all the Stalin truths came out, was completely lost. There was no real central platform, but plenty of things to protest about.

From what I recall, the whole thing was Anna was not integrated at all, wasn't the actual golden notebook kind of a mess? I do remember as as 21 year old looking for clues in the gold notebook on just how to heal myself, but not finding the answer, which I put down to my own stupidity. But maybe Anna is doing it all wrong is what I'm thinking now. She's still looking outside, what with men, politics, etc to bring it all together.

Apologies if I'm far off base here, this was such an important book for me, I still have my original copy which is in seriously bad shape from my constant rereading certain parts thruout my early 20s!

Now that I think of it, her next book, The Four Gated City, is also about self-integration. One of the main characters (but not THE main character) is actually suffering from mental illness.

Perhaps she was saying that people needed to also come to a common cause externally and not just be so self-absorbed.

Dottie I'm struggling along in this one but only because I'm reading other things and distracted in several fashions lately. I am -- so far -- thoroughly enjoying the format of the novel sections and the notebook sections with their four divisions. Russ, I think I'll eventually return to this and read it as you suggested -- each notebook complete on its own as I can see how that would definitely change the view of the whole.

I'm wondering if anyone else found the notebook novel influencing how they read the actual novel sections? The novel in Anna's notebook is like looking at a convoluted mirror image of the story being told in the sections between the notebook segments. In fact it reminds me of the ideas and tools I used with a group of children -- a math program called Mira-math -- congruencies and incongruencies.

Fascinating reading!

message 18: by Gail (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gail Mmmm...I considered going through the sections independently of one another, but decided that an important part of the work was the disorganization, or perhaps the multi-orgainzation, and the separation of Anna's thoughts and story into all these disparate and yet somehow conjoined parts. Kind of like a narwhal or chambered nautilus. Bizarre but a good exercise for my old brain.

Dottie Gail -- I'm certain that the format as it is presented is exactly as you say part of the purpose -- but I'm contrarian enough to think that it would be interesting to readit as Russ suggested just to test that idea. I'm funny that way.

I am finishing the first segment of the notebooks soon -- so obviously I'm way behind -- but the melange of Anna with her character of ella and the mix of Paul/Michael -- and that overlap of the lives of Anna and Molly are just intriguing as all get out -- so I'm anxious to read faster.

message 20: by Ruth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth I got so caught up in the Molly-in-Africa story that I forgot it was an inset and was disappointed to find myself back in England with Anna.

Even though this was a reread, it was a struggle for me to get through it. I kept thinking she could have used an editor. It kept circling around and around and around. Apparently if something was worth saying once, Lessing thought it was worth saying again. And again. And again.
How many bad relationships do we have to see Anna/Molly go through before we get the idea?

And the final one, with the nut case... I kept inwardly screaming at her to get him outta there. Was that necessary?


Sherry I was wondering about that, too, Ruth. It seemed that there was even another version of that "Crazy Anna" story in the last chapter, where instead of having an affair with that looney-tunes, she plastered newspaper clippings all over her room. Then she had a smaller affair with a different American. These all seem like variations on a theme, or variations on a dream.

I need to think more about the whole thing (and maybe finish the Introduction) before I write any more about this.

Ricki I'm still only about 2/3 of the way through and am loving every minute of it so can't add to any overall view. It has been said that Lessing's writing is quite autobiographical and I've found the discussions about the Communist Party fascinating but also the way she jumps back and forth from the 'reality' of Anna to the bits about, is it Emma. Sorry once more the book is nowhere near the computer. Here I am at 60+ and wishing I had had the insights at the age Lessing was when she wrote the book that I am still acquiring.
This book also suits my taste because I realise more and more that the books I truly like are those that extend my insights into humanity, places, etc. I believe a lot of my criticism of novels I read come from the fact that a particular book has not done so. Funny enough I haven't either gotten to, or found any part that I wish had been more fully edited - as opposed to the Proust where I was screaming 'edit' all the time!

message 23: by Ruth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth I thought the newspaper thing was just an extension of the earlier craziness. So much for paying attention.

And what about the Golden Notebook, where she was supposed to pull everything together?


Sherry I may be wrong, but I have a feeling the Golden Notebook, even though it is sparse, is kind of the point, which I think is that mental health comes from not over-thinking, not over-obsessing, not over-doing, but just being and living and loving. And keeping in mind that blade of grass that will pop up after all of us are dead and gone. Knowing that life is basically meaningless, but finding happiness anyway.

message 25: by Dottie (last edited Feb 13, 2008 09:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dottie And even though I'm not there yet (at the end of it) -- perhaps not beating oneself up internally and externally from guilt over all of those things you mention, Sherry?

I have concluded that I HAVE to get my hands on my own copy and read this one again and I should have persisted in doing so from the start -- see, there I go-- right now I'm just glad I kept reading.

message 26: by Jim (last edited Feb 15, 2008 07:11AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim The role of the Communist Party is striking. From the perspective of the US, membership in the Communist Party was basically treason in the 50s. Remember the old TV show I Led Three Lives about Herb Philbrick who served as a counterintelligence agent in CPUSA?

In Britain it sounds as if the Party was just seen as a form of idealism, perhaps the way it was seen in the US prior to the 50s.

Where everything seems to breakdown is when you get to the practical realities of getting power to do the wonderful things that you would like to do. Suddenly you need unity of purpose and idealists are forced to compromise. In the worst case you end up with a Stalinism that is far more oppressive than the evils you are trying to redress. Where does that leave you? Do you go back to a self centered cynicism, a lonely idealism, or just accept the compromise?

My edition of The Golden Notebook has a blurb from Irving Howe, a leading light of The New York Intellectuals and an anti-Stalinist Socialist. In a way this must have been a novel about his life as he left the Communist movement in opposition to Stalinism. I recall reading about his inability to tolerate the Students for a Democratic Society in spite of their socialist tendencies because he found them to be a little light when it came to democracy. This book must have spoken to him just as strongly as it seems to have done to feminists.

Overall I wonder if the role of the Communist Party in the life of Anna isn't to provide Meaning and that the drifting away from it is a realization that you have to find Meaning on your own. The drifting in a political sense is paralleled in a personal sense perhaps.

message 27: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim Looking through the Wikipedia, I find that membership in the CPUSA was actually declared illegal in 1954 and that the organization did receive funding from the USSR for many years. The open question is to what degree CPUSA sponsored espionage and to what degree it simply was an organization with ideas that didn't fit into the mainstream. For some reason the British don't seem to have struggled with this issue as much.

message 28: by Gail (last edited Feb 15, 2008 03:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gail Very insightful, Jim! I couldn't have articulated it that clearly, but I agree with it exactly! I also thought that it was like so many of our idealisms from youth that turn out to be not workable, at least with what people are like now. Loved that: "a little light when it came to democracy". I remember SDS well from my younger days and had precisely the same problem with it.
Irving Howe is one of my heroes.

Sherry There are so many things to talk about in this book, that I almost have brain freeze and don't talk about anything. I have to say, though, that I've never read anything that I remember having so much to do with the idealistic beginnings of the Communist Party. It's almost like people were even afraid to write fiction about it or they would be blackballed.

There were two introductions in my edition, one from the seventies, and one from the nineties. I read them after I had finished and found them illuminating, but also it seemed they went out on tangents. One of her complaints about modern literature is that no one writes the philosophical novel any more. This one sure is. Another complaint she had is about the education system. Students would write HER asking for names of literary critic experts in the field of her work, as if asking HER herself was a secondary source. I found it amazing that she quit school at 14. She considered it good fortune, because it taught her to think for herself.

She says the book's theme is break-up and integration of self. The Golden Notebook claims to be that section where there is integration. But I don't understand it. It seems that the GN is where she went totally off the deep end. But maybe the idea is you have to go crazy before you can be sane. She sure showed us the crazy part, but I never did get where she was sane, except where she knew she had to get rid of Saul Green.

I see this book more in musical terms. Like a big complicated symphony where there are leitmotivs all over the place, and variations on a theme and recaps and dominant chords and dissonance and melody.

I could do a whole thing where I could say this theme is the dominant theme, and this theme is minor, this is the melody and here is the recap. And I could work up a whole book, probably almost as big as the book itself, but I think Lessing would probably laugh.

message 30: by Ruth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth Hee, Sherry. If a thing is worth saying once...


Sherry What hoppened! When I was posting the original post, it went into save mode for about 20 minutes, then came back saying there was an internal error. I know I didn't hit that button more than, say twice. It must have really liked what I had to say.

Okay, I think there is only one left now. Let's see if I can get this post up there only once.

message 32: by Dottie (last edited Feb 16, 2008 03:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dottie Sherry -- I think your musical comparison is right on target. And I liked your conclusion as to sanity arising from having experienced crazy. I found myself very involved in this one -- and wondering if this might have been a poor bit of timing as to reading it -- some small parts of the "crazy" parallels (ETA echoes would be a better word there) some of the "crazy" I've been experiencing in my own being and life in the past few years. Now THAT got scary at one point -- but on the other hand -- it was illuminating as well -- because I found myself viewing much of the angst as -- the norm that we all go through in growing through our own beings to that point -- IF we ever get to it -- when we are satisfied wtih our own "good enough" selves. That would be the integrated self?

I also think a lot of the Communist Party bits parallelled the human aspects -- an organization for whatever purpose is only so good as the flawed beings who form, run and either support or don't support that purpose. I don't think I'd ever read anything much about the Communist Party's earlier years in Europe, England or Africa -- anywhere -- why? Seems it would have been something we were paying attention to when it was the big bogeyman behind our Cold War growing up years -- well for those of a certain age, at least. I read some small amount of the red scares and McCarthy era and about those Ameicans who fled to elsewhere as a result of the hearings -- or not. That has held a bit of fascination -- but why do I know so little otherwise? So from that view -- this was quite an interesting book -- though the disillusionment and the descriptions seem also to say -- the Communists were just people attempting to matter, failing, and splintering and behaving like humans in any situation -- sounds like pop psychology almost.

I just finished this one -- reading late last night and polishing off the final two segments this morning. I'm glad I read it but I'm not at all sure exactly what I think of it. I think it must have been an extremely difficult work to complete certainly -- like putting together a multi-thousand piece verbal jigsaw.

message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

"I'm wondering if anyone else found the notebook novel influencing how they read the actual novel sections? The novel in Anna's notebook is like looking at a convoluted mirror image of the story being told in the sections between the notebook segments."..posted above by Dottie.

That is why for quite a while I wondered if Anna was in fact the true narrator, finally realized that was not the case, but the mirroring was eerie.

Summer I’m still wrestling with this; I don’t know if I’ll ever finish. Maybe this one just isn’t for me and in the spirit of Lessing’s introductory advice, I should just retire from it.

Ricki Finished it last night and many of the things I would say have been said above. There are a couple of things to add - firstly from a comment by Lessing in the afterword of my edition - she reacts to some of the criticism of the book -
'Then, as now there was a cry that the novel is dead, with a demand for new kinds of novel, but not one of these reviewers noticed that the book had an original structure........what I said then was that The Golden Notebook had a shape, a composition, that itself was a statement, a communication. If they wanted a new kind of novel, then wasn't this one?...
The 'structure' was this. A short conventional novel, which can stand by itself, is interleaved itself reflecting what many writers feel on finishing a novel: despair that their neat pattern of a novel excludes so much of the life that made it.'

'But what had I said in The Golden Notebook? That any kind of singlemindedness, narrowness, obsession, was bound to lead to mental disorder, if not madness.(This may be observed most easily in religion and politics).'

And a side bit of amusement - 'The book keeps popping up unexpectedly. The first translation in China was a much-bowdlerized edition sold as porn.' !!!!!

Ok - my own feelings - I thought the existence of the character of Mother Sugar was of great influence to the form of the book as well as the contents. It read to me as being influenced by psychoanalysis - that each and every one of us has the possibility of looking at our lives from different points of view. We do this on the whole subconsiously and it only comes to the fore when we are in the process of making a serious decision. At that point we categorise our reactions - with facts, feelings and sometimes our imagining ofthe results of various possibilities. What Lessing did was to take this to the extreme - the aspects of the notebooks and the narratives almost reflected for me Jungian archetypes and this I thought she did exceptionally well. The end of analysis is always a re-integration of personality - hence The Golden Notebook. There's also that sentence at the end that Molly says -'So we're both going to be integrated with British life at its roots.' Important I think to remember that Lessing was during this time integrating into her life in Britain and leaving behind some of her early African experiences.
Another, again psychological, bit - there were several times when Laing's 'Knots' came to mind - to paraphrase one - I am talking to the you that I perceive from my experience while you are talking to the me that you perceive but I am listening from the me that is and also the me that come to the front when I react to you.
in short ...I think there are some 60's intellectual trends that bring a heavy influence on this work....which I've thoroughly enjoyed but which has at times given me a bit of intellectual indigestion from its richness.

Sherry Ricki, I really enjoyed reading your comments about the psychological perspective. I think you are dead right. Did you, however, actually see how she was integrated, or do you think the whole process of integration was illustrated by the fact of the book itself?

message 37: by Mary Ellen (new)

Mary Ellen I am about to throw in the towel on this one. I feel as though I've been slogging through it forever, and look with longing at the other TBR books sitting invitingly on my bookshelf. They whisper, "read me! read me! I'm so much shorter and bound to be more coherent and, well, more entertaining than 'The Golden Notebook.'" I argue, "No! No! This book is the high point of the career of a Nobel Prize-winning author. None of you guys can that about yourselves!" (I have a sort of lowbrow bookshelf...)

The thing is, the first half -- maybe first two-fifths -- of the book was really amazing. I found the four-notebook conceit intriguing and thought Lessing pulled it off perfectly. And I found the story of the Anna's time in Africa very engaging. Not so her claustrophobic life in London, and, finally, in her apartment with the nutty-from-the-start Mr. Green. Which may have been the point, that choosing a life-that-was-not-much-of-a-life drove Anna nuts. (Or maybe, shge was already ill and that's why she chose to engage less and less and less?)

Anyway, sorry for this rant, (for which the mental meanderings TGN surely prepared you all!), but one last comment/question: Did anyone else find the Anna/Molly Free Women dialogue extremely artificial, increasingly so as the work went on?

I still have to read The Golden Notebook section. Perhaps it will cause me to reassess my response tothe book entirely.

Mary Ellen

message 38: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim I keep thinking that Anna needs Dr. Laura not Mother Sugar. Somebody needs to tell her that if you want a good lasting relationship stop wasting time on married men. And if you want good orgasms have sex with men you find sexually attractive. Forget writing four different versions of your life seeking a grand synthesis. This is simple stuff.

I am not quite done yet, so maybe she Dr. Laura will show up in the last notebook. Based on the first 450 pages, it is hard to be optimistic.

Sherry Oh, you're so funny, Jim. I meant to mention that about all those married men. It was like she was just setting herself up to be ditched. And there is the age-old idea that if you pick a cheating man to love he will cheat on you and he ain't worth much anyway. I think she was using the word "Free" very ironically. And Mary Ellen, the Golden Notebook does not in any way pull it all together. Don't be disappointed.

message 40: by Candy (new)

Candy I read this one a long time ago and it was really great to read the comments here. I especially enjoyed the ideas about the Communist Party in these posts...isn't it amazing how everyone supports Communism now? I never thought we'd see the financial support of Communism...especially from U.S. citizens.

I am still against totalitarian governments however especially China...I haven't recovered from Tianaman Square or the sexist rejection of girl babies.

It's amazing to me that Communism has gone from as Jim says, treason in the 50' now most people give their money to Communism=China.

(all those made in China products...I have a terrible time shopping because I won't give my money to China...and everything seems to be made from there...ugh!)

Anyways I am pretty impressed that so many here re-visited or read the book and I have really enjoyed the comments.

message 41: by Mary Ellen (new)

Mary Ellen Jim, I loved your comment also!
I figure that Anna got involved with married men because she, Anna*, on one level defined being a "free woman" as not having a marriage commitment and so got involved with men who wouldn't seek or offer it to her. And of course, on another level, she wanted long-lasting commitment from them.

* I found her habit of writing "I, Anna" all the time really annoying. I suppose it was a sign of her instability; she had to keep clarifying for herself who she, Anna, was.

Candy, it is ironic that we are all pouring so much of our money into China, isn't it? And that their self-perpetuating dictatorship of the proletariat is financing itself through burgeoning capitalism...

Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen

message 42: by Mary Ellen (new)

Mary Ellen Finally done! And Sherry, it's true that The Golden Notebook didn't pull much together...

But here's my interpretation: at the end of their relationship (in the golden notebook, IIRC), Anna and Saul give each other opening sentences for the novel that each challenges the other to write. (A bracketed note tells us that Saul's novel about an Algerian soldier who gets into a philosophical debate with a French soldier he has just tortured, became (improbably!) quite successful.) The opening sentence that Saul gives Anna is the opening sentence of the first of the "Free Women" sections. So I think that the "Free Women" novel is actually supposed to be written by Anna, a fictionalized account of that portion of her life (and perhaps truer to that part of her life, than her African novel was to her experience there?). The last section of "Free Women," in which Anna breaks down after her daughter goes to boarding school, is Anna's fictionalized account of her period with Saul. The newspaper-clipping-nuttiness is a substitute for the obssession-with-Saul-nuttiness.

If Anna is actually supposed to be the "author" of "Free Women," this explains for me why it seems so stilted, particularly the dialogue, and why so much of the action seems improbable (the whole Tommy/Marian thing is such farce) in comparison with the other sections. It is an artificial reconstruction of Anna's life. (So who knows how much of it is "true"?)

I agree with those who said that this novel is about self-integration. I think Lessing is saying that it can't be achieved from the outside, but must be done within. Anna had a series of "organizing principles" in her life: her work with the Communist Party, her caring for her daughter, and her destructive relationship with Saul (just the worst, really, of all her destructive relationships with men). In the end, she is on her own, and I gathered that she regained some equilibrium. I like the point Lessing is making, and the form she created is fascinating. But the repetition is too tedious, IMHO. I believe much could have been edited, particularly the endless discussions of the CP and the painfully tedious Anna-and-Saul section, without losing the point.

Mary Ellen

message 43: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim In my last job I purchased products from a company that manufactured in China. The ownership of the company, yes ownership, was based in Taiwan!

I asked someone what happened to the Communist China that was the implacable foe of Nationalist China and was told that was politics and this is business. It may be that we are just a few years behind the time in thinking China is the spearhead of Marxism.

message 44: by Ruth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth But the repetition is too tedious, IMHO. I believe much could have been edited, particularly the endless discussions of the CP

My sentiments exactly, Mary Ellen. I found this a much more difficult read this second time around. And it was my nomination! I worried about what I had inflicted on you all. If I hadn't been stuck with writing the intro to the discussion, I might have bailed on the book.

I'm glad I stuck it thru, though, and that it's engendered such a great discussion.


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