The Golden Notebook (1962)
by Doris Lessing
The Golden Notebook is a novel with serious legs. You can attribute it's staying power to a number of factors. It sits at the intersection of race, class and politics that animated many discussions in the 1960s. Lessing herself was raised in Southern Africa, so she brought valuable insight to the noth/south discussion that continues to be a central issue in the subject of world literature. The Golden Notebook is also a precursor of "post-modern" or "meta" fiction while maintaining strong roots in the tradition of the great English Victorian novel.
Anna Wulf, a writer, single mother and "free woman" at the center of The Golden Notebook, is one of those ur-20th century women who define the experience of being a "modern" woman. Lessing and Wulf are not exactly care-free prostlyizers for free love, quite the opposite. The primary literary theme is that of Wulf's disintegration through a series of unhappy relationships. The technique of The Golden Notebook is the use of four separate notebooks, each with it's own theme: Black for Africa experiences, Red for communist experiences, Yellow for love affairs and Blue as a catch all. Excerpts from these notebooks are contained within a framing narrative of Anna Wulf's everyday existence. Thus, The Golden Notebook spans vast territory, from pre-World War II southern Africa to the America driven market for television versions of literary properties in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Lessing's astute depiction of the emerging world of modern publishing, particularly television and magazines is worth singling out from the weightier themes of global communism and terrible interpersonal sexual relationships. Lessing provides the most sophisticated takes on television and women's magazines as I've read seen in any novel from the 1001 Books selections. Considering that I'm not into the 1960s, you would think that the novel would have been more reflective of these areas and their impact on the novel reading public.