Second Thoughts: Golden snarls: Doris Lessing on The Golden Notebook (Flamingo pounds 6.99)
Saturday 04 December 1993
Reviewers can be an emotional lot. Most - some men were the exceptions - were too roiled to notice the book's shape, which to me was the point, saying by implication that to slap labels on to oneself is a mistake. 'Men. Women. Bound. Free. Good. Bad. Yes. No. Capitalism. Socialism. Sex. Love.' Everywhere in 1958 and 1959 True Believers were reeling off with broken hearts and minds because of the failure of Communism, and it was already evident that emotional commitment to a cause leads to nothing but trouble.
Later, women's movements claimed the book, and ever since, in country after country, this has happened. Now I get letters from the granddaughters of the book's first readers, who pressed it into their hands as a guide to the situation of women. I have always had letters from people interested only in the politics, and from psychiatrists interested only in the theme of madness. It is salutary to have written a book which has nearly always been received in ways opposite to its intention.
It was written at a time when every part of me was in lively debate with every other, which is perhaps why the thing has a vitality that keeps it popping up in unexpected places. It has just been republished in China, and 80,000 copies sold out in two days. To women. In Brazil two girls from the favelas said the book was relevant to their lives. A black man who read it in prison in Africa said it had changed his attitudes to women.
I wrote my way out of one set of mind - what I call 'the Western intellectual package', obligatory then for any person claiming seriousness - which meant you had to be a materialist, both philosophically and practically: life must ascend for ever for everyone everywhere on a stairway of material prosperity. You had to own allegiance to one of the churches of Marxism and believe that the working classes were the inheritors and transmitters of every possible good. You had to be an atheist. By the end of the book I had arrived in a state of agnosticism about absolutely everything, religion, politics, philosophy. Or (the second sentence), 'Everything is cracking up.'
One thought, when planning the book, was that 19th-century novels I would like to read had never been written. Historical events and processes usually seem afterwards like records of lunacy, but that is because we don't have the key to them - the atmosphere, the zeitgeist - which made it all possible. This is what novels do well - give you the taste and flavour of a time. I had lived through a period, and I knew it, just ending, which would soon seem more than usually a tale told by idiots. I wanted to record it. Whatever else the book has succeeded or failed in, I think people wanting to know what the flavour of political life and debate was like in the Forties, the Fifties, will find it in The Golden Notebook.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 New route to Mars could make manned mission much cheaper and easier
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Christmas TV guide 2014: The best shows to watch from Doctor Who to Downton Abbey
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food