One-Minute Book Reviews

October 11, 2007

An Overdue Nobel Prize in Literature for Doris Lessing

At last, the Swedish Academy honors the author of the landmark The Golden Notebook

The mandate for the Nobel Prize in Literature specifies that it must go to an author whose works show an “idealistic” tendency. In practice this means that the award www.nobelprize.org sometimes has more to do with politics than literary merit. But the Swedish Academy got it right — if belatedly — in giving the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature to the novelist Doris Lessing, born in what is now Iran and a resident of London. As Motoko Rich and Sarah Lyall write in today’s online New York Times:

“Ms. Lessing’s strongest legacy may be that she inspired a generation of feminists with her breakthrough novel, The Golden Notebook. In its citation, the Swedish Academy said: ‘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.’

“Ms. Lessing wrote candidly about the inner lives of women and rejected the notion that they should abandon their own lives to marriage and children. The Golden Notebook, published in 1962, tracked the story of Anna Wulf, a woman who wanted to live freely and was in some ways Ms. Lessing’s alter-ego.

“Because she frankly depicted female anger and aggression, she was attacked as ‘unfeminine.’ In response, Ms. Lessing wrote: ‘Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise.'”

The well-organized and comprehensive site Doris Lessing: A Retrospective www.dorislessing.org rightly says that Lessing broke new ground with The Golden Notebook and its portrait of the women of its era: “Anna Wulf, like Lessing herself, strives for ruthless honesty as she aims to free herself from the chaos, emotional numbness, and hypocrisy afflicting her generation.”

Since its inception, One-Minute Book Reviews has had a policy that at least 50 percent of its reviews cover books by women. The Golden Notebook was one of the novels that helped to shape my thinking about the role of women and my belief that the small steps that all of us take in our own lives are the first step toward real justice for both sexes. Would more book clubs were reading this instead of The Manny!

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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