Book One. In the “Free Women” section, Anna visits her old friend Molly, feeling distant and cynical about their personal talks. Richard and Molly fight about their son, his new wife, and his choice of career. Tommy, sarcastic, watches his parents, and Anna goes home, depressed, to write. Beginning as a parody of a novel synopsis, the Black Notebook then continues with Anna’s reminiscences about her experiences with a group of communist intellectuals in World War II Rhodesia. The group had discovered a resort hotel in the veld, and they spent their weekends there drinking and discussing political ideas. An older member of the group, George Hounslow, had an affair and a child with an African woman, the hotel cook’s wife. When the hotel owner discovered this, she dismissed the cook, ruining his family. Anna had a sexual encounter with her lover’s friend, and these two incidents ended the group’s association.
In the Red Notebook, Anna is cynical about the British Communist Party but joins anyway. She decides she did this because she, like others, could not give up hope for a better world. Anna worked for the party canvassing neighborhoods and discovered her real interest was the life of the average housewife, who was home going “quietly mad,” a subject for study not considered serious by the party leaders.
Anna writes the Yellow Notebook as a novel. Ella, a women’s magazine writer, becomes involved with Paul Tanner, a married psychologist with two children. They begin to behave more like the stereotypical man and woman. In a plot sketch of the novel, Ella and Paul are involved for five years. He refuses to leave his wife, then gets a job in Africa to escape Ella. Anna is frustrated that the novel, like her first book, does not capture her actual lived experience.
In the Blue Notebook, a diary, Anna goes to a psychotherapist and immediately begins dreaming. She cuts out articles from the newspapers that examine the violence in the world, trying to understand it. In her dreams, a menacing dwarf who represents chaos appears.
Book Two. In “Free Women,” Tommy visits Anna to tell her he has turned down his father’s job offer and he has read her private notebooks. Marion, Richard’s new wife, arrives, drunk, and in the middle of their conversation, Molly calls to say Tommy has shot himself. In the Black Notebook, Anna has dinner with television agents who want to buy the rights to her novel. Both want to change the novel beyond recognition to be socially acceptable. In the Red Notebook, Anna toys with quitting the Communist Party. In a dream, she sees a tapestry that stretches over the earth. Someone pulls a string and it dissolves into chaos. She attends a writing group in which everyone is afraid to criticize a badly written pamphlet because it is...
(The entire section is 1160 words.)