The Golden Notebook is the longest and the most ambitious work Doris Lessing has ever attempted to write. It is a masterpiece in portraiture of the manners, aspirations, anxieties and the particular problems of the times in which we live.
Mrs. Lessing says: 'About five years ago I found myself thinking about that novel which most writers now are tempted to write at some time or another - about the problems of a writer, about the artistic sensibility. I saw no point in writing this again: it has been done too often; it has been one of the major themes of the novel in our time. Yet, having decided not to write it, I continued to think about it, and about the reasons why artists now have to combat various kinds of narcissism. I found that, if it were to be written at all, the subject should be, not a practising artist, but an artist with some kind of a block which prevented him or her from creating. In describing the reasons for the block, I would also be making the criticisms I wanted to make about our society. I would be describing a disgust and self-division which afflicts people now, and not only artists.
'Simultaneously I was working out another book, a book of literary criticism, which I would write not as critic, but as practising writer, using various literary styles in such a way that the shape of the book and the juxtaposition of the styles would provide the criticism. Since I hold that criticism of literature is a criticism and judgement of life, this book would say what I wanted of life; it would make implicitly, a statement about what Marxists call alienation.
'Thinking about these two books I understood suddenly they were not two books but one; they were fusing together in my mind. I understood that the shape of this book should be enclosed and claustrophobic - so narcissistic that the subject matter must break through the form.
'This novel, then, is an attempt to break a form; to break certain forms of consciousness and go beyond them. While writing it, I found I did not believe some of the things I thought I believed: or rather, that I hold in my mind at the same time beliefs and ideas that are apparently contradictory. Why not? We are, after all, living in the middle of a whirlwind.'