Doris Lessing's most famous novel, published in 1962 is now considered one of the major works of twentieth-century literature.

 

It is the story of Anna Wulf, a writer and single woman, who lives with her young daughter in a flat, occasionally renting out a room, less for the income than out of a reflex of social obligation. Laboring against a writing block, following the immense success of her autobiographical debut novel about a group of Communists in colonial Africa, Anna struggles to find a way to integrate the multiple selves that fragment her personality and make her life unbearably painful. Out of "fear of chaos, formlessness-- of breakdown," she decides to keep four notebooks, one for each component of her life--black for her experiences in Africa, red for current politics, yellow for a fictionalized version of herself, and blue for a diary.

 

Although framed by a conventional novel called Free Women, the crux of the novel, according to Lessing, is the "relation of its parts to each other." By viewing her life from these different angles, going over her experiences, gauging her responses, and carefully probing her intertwined layers of consciousness, Anna eventually manages to unify her identify in one notebook. As she does so, she comes to terms with her growing disillusionment with communism, the trauma of emotional rejection and sexual betrayal, professional anxieties, and the tensions of friendship and family.

 

 

 

In Sleepless Nights a woman looks back on her life—the parade of people, the shifting background of place—and assembles a scrapbook of memories, reflections, portraits, letters, wishes, and dreams. An inspired fusion of fact and invention, this beautifully realized, hard-bitten, lyrical book is not only Elizabeth Hardwick's finest fiction but one of the outstanding contributions to American literature of the last fifty years.

 

'Sleepless Nights—a novel of mental weather—enchants by the scrupulousness and zip of the narrative voice, its lithe, semi—staccato descriptions and epigrammatic dash.'


— Susan Sontag, The New Yorker

 

 

 

First published in 1952 under the pseudonym Claire Morgan and touted as "the novel of a love society forbids," the book soon became a lesbian cult classic. Yet it was always relegated to a mystery subgenre and never before given the literary recognition that it is deserving.

 

Based on a true story plucked from Highsmith's own life, The Price of Salt, tells the riveting story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department store day job, whose routine is forever shattered by an erotic epiphany—the appearance of Carol Aird, a customer who comes in to buy her daughter a Christmas toy. Therese begins to stalk the alluring suburban housewife, who is trapped in a marriage as stultifying as Therese's job. They fall in love and set out across the United States, pursued by a private investigator who eventually blackmails Carol into a choice between her daughter and her lover.

 

 

 

The Hotel de las Palmas, in Jane Bowles’s conspicuously strange novel Two Serious Ladies, is a gnatty pension where pimps and winos lie about. It is here, in a rundown Panamanian port town called Colon, a place “full of nothing but half breeds and monkeys,” that Frieda Copperfield, a fine lady of early middle age and of respectable provenance, decides to jettison her handsome but square husband to find warmth and gin-soaked comfort in the arms of a teenage prostitute named Pacifica. Lying in leonine Pacifica’s tiny bed, her cheek resting on the girl’s breast, Mrs. Copperfield feels that she has finally found the sort of love that she has always looked for. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else for the world,” she says, a little later, about the inn that will soon become her adopted home.

 

 

 

 

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick

Suggestions for future reads:

(any welcome)

 

The passionate pursuit of elusive happiness is the major preoccupation and drama for the heroines of “Two Serious Ladies,” Bowles’s only novel, born of many years of writing and many more of worrying over her inability to do so. Few people have had more legendary writers block—Bowles spent decades agonizing over works she would never complete—which is, at least in part, why Two Serious Ladies is required reading when it comes to understanding the writer’s enigmatic and crooked world.

 

“Named by Tennessee Williams as his favourite book, Two Serious Ladies(first published in 1943) is a singular achievement – a modernist cult classic, and Jane Bowles’s only novel … Bowles’s spare, elliptical prose has a hallucinatory quality, pierced by moments of startling clarity and wit. Her characters retain a sphinx-like opacity, as unsettling as it is engrossing; “If you are only interested in a bearable life, perhaps this does not concern you,” one of them writes. It is this challenge that lies at the heart of Bowles’s novel.” — Lettie Ransley, The Observer

 

“Readers who’ve not yet read Jane Bowles are almost to be envied, like people who’ve still to read Austen or Mansfield or Woolf, and have all the delight, the literary satisfaction, the shock of classic originality, the revelation of such good writing, still to come.” Ali Smith

 

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith