I won’t try to describe the experience of reading it [The Golden Notebook] except to say that it is unlike any other book I’ve ever read. And that it contrives to make the most ordinary situations—a couple arguing, a woman cooking a meal—into epicenters of weather systems stretching from McCarthyite America to apartheid South Africa to Stalinist Russia. And that there is a vein of brilliant acid comedy flowing through it that nobody had warned me about. And that it is as great for its plainness of address—all the stylistic and vocal jigs it doesn’t dance—as it is for its structural originality and staggering psychological insight.
I massively regret that I didn’t read it when I was in my twenties. Even if it hadn’t helped solve the problems of my intractable novel, it would have shown me things—about life as well as writing—that I could have made much more use of at that formative age (to be crudely utilitarian about it) than I can now. On the other hand, it’s a thrill to be reminded that there are still books this grand and powerful waiting to be read.
I’ve ordered the Jane Somers novels (there was a sequel), and I await them with only slightly queazy eagerness. There’s a line in Lessing’s introduction to “The Golden Notebook” that seems to have been written expressly for me: “Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty.”
I’ll be bearing that in mind.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Literary conversion experience: rejecter of Lessing novel becomes big fan
Doris Lessing's The Diary of a Good Neighbour (albeit written under a pseudonym) when he was a reader at Johnathan Cape has now decided she may be a bit of all right. James Lasdun tells the full story of his about face on a New Yorker blog. (Jeez, has it really been 30 years since that titillating incident?)