A winding walk of connections
why I made this website.
I read The Golden Notebook (Lessing 1962) when I was about 17. It was recommended to me by my great Aunt’s friend who with us with at the time. She was of Lessing’s era and one of the true radicals of post-war England. Perhaps she gave it to me because of the war for women’s rights or a glimpse into the politics of the 50/60’s, perhaps she saw I was not a conformist and hoped that this novel would give me confidence in that. Maybe, she just thought this was a book that as an avid reader I was likely to devour.
I did and it is an excellent book. It pushes the form of a novel away from a neat story into a collage of experience, multiple voices pushing up against each other and constantly jostling. In the novel, Anna Wulf uses four separate notebooks to record a different aspect of her life. Although outwardly, she is a writer (with writer’s block), a mother, an activist, a 1960’s woman, a person trying to get by, none of these labels fit and at the heart of it, she is not quite sure who she is. The notebooks, Black, Red, Yellow & Blue, are ‘an attempt to separate things off from one another,’ to solidify aspects of her being. The Black notebook contains her thoughts and fears. The Red, politics and current affairs of the ’50s. The Yellow, her ideas for a novel and The Blue the minutiae of events, a factual record of what happened.
Eventually, it becomes clear that none of these books are really doing the job. It is something of a shock to find that a day which is a record of everything that happened does not necessarily make sense of the day. There is the recognition that the life she lives lacks a neat coherency, it is messy and full of non-sequiturs and contradictions. She has fragmented herself into parts and none of them are her. Cue ‘The Golden Notebook’, the novel which holds all these parts bringing them together through their differences, and also, confusingly another notebook inside the book where the divisions of the Black, Red, Yellow, and Blue books are dissolved into each other. Unity comes through disparity, through breaking down the false categories that she had set in her attempt to write herself as a neat story. This is what has stayed with me about that novel. It is a recognition that living is complicated and the complexity at the heart of the novel is the realisation that ‘we must not divide things off, must not compartmentalise’.
This thought struck me because for me everything feels connected and yet nothing I write comes out as a neat story. Part of this is my lack of craft, and part is that I enjoy writing down observations and experiences as moments, glimpses and connections none of which need to be anything more than what they are. After reading Lessing, I set about trying to write in a way that did not compartmentalise, which tried to reflect the way life was lived. In curating various bits and pieces on this website I am attempting to continue a collage of documentation that I have been accumulating for some time.