What I learned from ‘The Golden Notebook’
in relation to ‘All the Bright Places’
Niven’s new book recently came out and with it a flood of people began to gush about her first book again. Hearing as such, I decided to try it. With my experience reading YA, I know not all books are good—even the prize winners and the #1 sellers—still I was hoping this one would surprise me. It didn’t.
The only problem was, after reading it, I knew I loathed this book, but I wasn’t sure why. I mean—yes, Finch’s voice was sort of irritating, but so are many characters. And yes, too much of the book seemed too—I don’t know—expected. It is a teen book after all. Still, I was surprised by others’ reactions. Another person I know who had read it, couldn’t stop raving about it despite hating another suicide book, Thirteen Reasons. I’ll be reading that shortly and already feel a little dread, but the contrast that these two books got only further perplexed me as to why I hated this book.
And then I read Doris Lessing’s ‘The Golden Notebook.’
If there is such a thing as fate, reading her book so closely after reading Niven’s must be some kind of clandestine planning. I rarely underline in books that I personally read, but this time I had to. And this is the part that made everything clear.
“I feel sick when I look at the parody synopsis, at the letters from the film company; yet I know that what made the film company so excited about the possibilities of the novel as a film was precisely what made it successful as a novel. The novel is “about” a colour problem.”
Here we see Anna, the protagonist, fretting over her book being turned into a movie. She doesn’t like the idea, but Hollywood is going crazy and for the exact reason that she hates the book and the exact reason why she hates her treatment of the issues in the book and in her life: they all deal “about” a problem, whether it be a color problem, or socialist problem, or in the case of Niven’s book, a suicide problem. And I find that far too often books nowadays like to deal “about” an issue and never “in” an issue, much like Anna’s complaint.
This whole notion is only further compound by Niven’s own response to why she wrote the book, saying, “I want to write something dark.” That’s it. That’s the impetus for delving into suicide. It was something dark that she could write “about.” Never did she write “in” suicide. No, instead she gave us tales of others killing themselves, or haphazardly memorized stats on suicide with an occasional esoteric suicidal Italian poet to tie it all together.
On top of this, Finch’s reason for suicide is nothing more than a medical problem that many are afflicted with—which from others’ comments was portrayed poorly. If a book is going to delve into suicide, shouldn’t it address they many who do it for other reasons than ‘I-was-born-with-a-bad-roll-of-the-genetic-dice.’ Some might then offer up Violet’s own battle with it—or even Amanda Monk’s, whose suicidal revelation seemed all to convenient (Wow! Cool kids have these thoughts, too!) The thing with Violet is—it’s never believable. I never see her once dropping so low mentally to ever actually contemplate killing herself. It seems too topical, too superficial.
And if you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s exactly what being “about” something is.