It took what seemed like centuries, but I finally got to the final page of The Golden Notebook today. I picked it up in an ambitious mood a couple of weeks ago, read it steadily for a few days, and then was taunted by its weight in my bag daily as I struggled to push through the mire of the last couple hundred pages.
If that sentence sounds terribly forced, or if you're alarmed by my very British-like use of "terribly" there, forgive me; I've been reading a "serious" novel.
I do this to myself every now and then. I challenge myself to finish some massive tome rubber stamped by the academy as "important" because, well, I think I ought to. The Brothers Karamazov nearly killed me a few years ago, for example. And yet I'm glad I read it, and I suppose I could say the same of this novel.
It wasn't all bad. The technique was brilliant. There's a moment late in the novel when a character says to Anna, our heroine, something along the lines of "every now and then I come across a story that accomplishes something and I think, 'great, I don't have to write this, because you did.'" I suppose by that he meant it has a new idea, or a new form. The conceit of this novel is, well, novel: four notebooks in which separate facets of Anna's life are recorded (her youth in Africa, her politics/involvement with the Communist party, her creative side, and her day to day diary) which are eventually synthesized in the titular "golden" notebook. It's one of those things you come across and think, "hey, wish I'd thought of that."
The early portions of the story, especially the events in Africa and the drawing room parody of Anna and Molly, two "free" women who've given up on marriage, were interesting. Even the thousands of words devoted to Anna's daily affairs, which felt somewhat like reading the blogs of today, were at times compelling.
But why will people turn to this novel in years to come? Perhaps to educate. We read Austen and Dickens and others because they tell us about the times in which they lived. Certainly we learn something about post-war proto-feminism in this novel. I think the novel failed for me, in part, because I didn't really learn, or need to learn, anything about that period. It's not far enough removed yet. And its flaunting of conventions and frank discussion about sex, which may or may not have been scandalous when it was published, no longer seemed like that big of a deal. Historically, it's not old enough to be relevant yet, and ironically it was too forward thinking, or too modern, in its conventions to seem out of place now.
Well, anyway, it's back to pop lit for me. I've got another Le Carre lined up and I'm anxious to get to it. Le Carre and writers like him are the best of the literati, in my opinion, and they leave the navel gazing of the Doris Lessings of the world behind them trailing in the dust. But that's another day and another blog.