Who wrote this book and when?
Doris Lessing in 1962.

Has there been a film made of it?
Oh gracious, no.

Who are the main characters?
Anna Wulf – a British author with one successful book and writer’s block, a former member of the Communist party
Molly – her best friend, also a former Communist
Tommy – Molly’s son, torn between his mother and father who are divorced
Richard – Tommy’s father and Molly’s ex husband, a very wealthy and successful man
Marion – Richard’s present wife, an alcoholic and mother of his other three sons
Janet – Anna’s daughter
Paul Blackenhurst- a man Anna was secretly in love with in Africa, a Communist in the RAF
Willi Rodde- Anna’s boyfriend in Africa, a Communist
Maryrose – the only other girl in Anna’s Communist group in Africa
Mother Sugar – a psychoanalyst

What’s it about?
The life of Anna Wulf and her experiences in Communism, psychoanalysis, Africa, and writing. She has writer’s block horribly bad and feels obligated to write another novel because her first novel was so successful. She is also searching for truth in herself and uses a strange method to discover it. She continually writes in four notebooks, one black, one red, one yellow, and one blue.

The black notebook is about her experiences in Africa with the Communist sect working to give African people rights and an honest government. The red notebook tells about her workings with the British Communist Party and her slow disillusionment with it. The yellow notebook is her attempt at writing another novel where the heroine deals with the same problems she deals with in her love life and work life. And the blue one she uses as a personal diary to record her sessions with her psychoanalyst and boyfriends.

Finally, intermixed with all these notebook entries, is the story of her and her madness called “Free Women.” She is very close to her friend Molly’s son, Tommy, and is often the main mother figure in Tommy’s life. For some reason, she is also very often the mediator between Marion, Richard, Tommy, and Molly.

Why is this book a classic?
It is supposed to be a pinnacle in feminist writing. However, Doris Lessing does not consider it a feminist work and honestly, I see it as poor advertising for the feminist movement. Anna’s life is very unfulfilling and unhappy – and although every married woman is portrayed as unsatisfied, Anna herself is even more unsatisfied because she does not have the right man in her life. Instead she becomes more and more depressed and tending toward mania as she sleeps with more and more men.

Why should I read this book?
I wouldn’t really recommend it. If you are a big huge feminist buff, then maybe. And possibly you will understand it better than I.

Has it won any awards?
The Prix Medicis, a French literary award.

Favorite quotes:
“From the process of writing these words about Willi I have discovered I know nothing about him. About someone one understands, one doesn’t have to make lists of words.” – p67

“I am very dissatisfied with myself : what am I doing this for? Because I knew exactly what would happen from the first letter from Amalgamated Vision; except they are always one degree worse than one expects, these people.” – p268

Anything else?
Doris Lessing considers her best work to be the “Canopus in Argus” series, which is science fiction. It is also the Canopus series which disqualified her from being a candidate for the Nobel Peace prize…which I don’t understand.

Personal thoughts:
I’ll be honest with you – when I read the last line of this book, I thought “Thank God I’m done with that.” The premise sounds intriguing. And it’s hailed as the greatest book to ever capture how women think. So I dove in excitedly. And was horribly disappointed. For the first section, I was overwhelmed with the creativity of it all. The notebooks were interesting and anything about Africa will keep my attention for a while. But after the first 100-150 pages, I found myself dragging my eyes along and realizing I wasn’t taking in anything the woman was saying. Sure, there were points where I had those moments of “yep, know what that feels like” but they became fewer and further between as the book progressed.

Of course, part of this might be because Anna is going insane.

I believe the concept of this novel is well-intended. I know the main theme is the division of one’s self in order to find your true being and who you really are. To find truth and solve problems. But everything got so complicated with the fictional story within the fictional story that was divided up into four separate sections each representing a different time in this woman’s life…well, you get the idea of how confusing it was. Not to mention, many people were named the same thing or similar things. Overall, the only way I can see this as an insightful book as to how women think is from the man’s point of view: we are very damn confusing creatures. And we come across as insane much of the time. Which I don’t really believe, it’s just we have a hard time not being in control and knowing what we want. An entirely different issue for me to write about on an entirely different blog.

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