The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook

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‘Who? Do you know?’

‘Of course I know. It could be a Chinese peasant. Or one of Castro’s guerrilla fighters. Or an Algerian fighting in the FLN. Or Mr Mathlong. They stand here in the room and they say, why aren’t you doing something about us, instead of wasting your time scribbling?’

‘You know very well that’s not what any of them would say.’

‘No. But you know quite well what I mean. I know you do. It’s the curse of all of us.’

‘Yes, I do know. But Anna, I’m going to force you into writing. Take up a piece of paper and a pencil.’

I laid a sheet of clean paper on the table, picked up a pencil and waited.

‘It doesn’t matter if you fail, why are you so arrogant? Just begin.’

My mind went blank in a sort of panic, I laid down the pencil. I saw him staring at me, willing me, forcing me — I picked up the pencil again.

‘I’m going to give you the first sentence then. There are the two women you are, Anna. Write down: The two women were alone in the London flat.’

‘You want me to begin a novel with The two women were alone in the London flat?’

‘Why say it like that? Write it, Anna.’

I wrote it.

‘You’re going to write that book, you’re going to write it, you’re going to finish it.’

I said: ‘Why is it so important to you that I should?’

‘Ah,’ he said, in self-mocking despair. ‘A good question. Well, because if you can do it, then I can.’

‘You want me to give you the first sentence of your novel?’

‘Let’s hear it.’

‘On a dry hillside in Algeria, the soldier watched the moonlight glinting on his rifle.’

He smiled. ‘I could write that, you couldn’t.’

‘Then write it.’

‘On condition you give me your new notebook.’


‘I need it. That’s all.’

‘All right.’

‘I’m going to have to leave, Anna, you know that?’


‘Then cook for me. I never thought I’d say to a woman, cook for me. I regard the fact that I can say it at all as a small step towards what they refer to as being mature.’

The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook

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One Comment

  1. Laura Kipnis December 31st, 2008 at 8:57 am

    This is romantic–or at least collaborative: it’s Saul who gives her the first line of the book. “The two women were alone in the London flat.” So TGN is their child, in a sense?