Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Golden Notebook

Doris Lessing has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. At 88 years of age she is the oldest winner of the prize. Contrast that with Kiran Desai, at 35 the youngest winner of the Booker Prize (last year). Of course, Lessing has been waiting awhile, as she published her most famous book, The Golden Notebook, in 1962, when she was 43 (if my math is correct!). [picture at left is Lessing in 1962]

The Swedish Academy, in their Nobel citation, referred to The Golden Notebook:
“The burgeoning feminist movement saw it as a pioneering work and it belongs to the handful of books that informed the 20th century view of the male-female relationship.”
In my youth the book had the aura of the forbidden - 'Is it naughty?!' (all naughty things seemed to have colour: Forever Amber, I Am Curious Yellow, Dress Her In Indigo and all the other colourful John D. MacDonald pulp fiction). In the homes of my parents' friends it was kept on the very top bookshelf along with Portnoy's Complaint, The Female Eunuch (with the scary female torso cover), Erica Jong, Henry Miller, D. H. Lawrence and other dangerous folks.

It was a
musing (okay, and a little disappointing) to find out years later that The Golden Notebook was/is a feminist classic, a pioneer in its examination of female identity, a serious, complex, innovative literary work with interwoven narratives and unusual structure - perhaps "frank" for 1962, but certainly not "naughty". I believe I figured this out when I read Lessing's much-anthologized story, "To Room Nineteen" in university (published in 1963). I re-read it today and it is still a stunner of a story: a woman trapped in marriage and family retreats to a rented room for a time, but can't really escape in the end. [You can find it in The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction here at the Library]. [picture at left, Lessing in 2006]

The New York Times has an impressive treasure trove of Lessingiana [here], including audio of her reading and answering questions at NYC's 92nd St. Y in 1994, pluse NYT reviews of many of her books.


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