The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. (pg. 3)

On the evening of 30th December 2003, Joan Didion sat down to dinner with her husband and fellow writer, John Gregory Dunne, at their home in New York. Moments later, John experienced a massive coronary event that was to lead to his death. At the same time, the couple’s only child, Quintana, was lying unconscious in an intensive care unit at the Beth Israel North Medical Center in the city. She had been there since Christmas Day when, what had at first appeared to be a case of flu, suddenly morphed into pneumonia and septic shock. The Year of Magical Thinking charts Didion’s attempts to make sense of the weeks and months that followed these tumultuous events in her life, a period that swept away any previous beliefs she had held about illness and death and grief, about probability and luck, about marriage and children and memory, about life itself. It is a deeply personal exploration of these concepts, all written in Didion’s signature style, that of the cool, perceptive, surgically-precise chronicler of our times.

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Written between October and December 2004, the book’s title has its origins in “magical thinking,” a state whereby a person believes that their thoughts and wishes can bring about certain events or change an outcome in some way. Despite the fact that Didion appeared cool and rational in the hours and days immediately following John’s death, she began to believe that she could bring him back, ‘to reverse time, to run the film backwards.’

I see now that my insistence on spending that first night alone was more complicated than it seemed, a primitive instinct. Of course I knew John was dead. Of course I had already delivered the definitive news to his brother and to my brother and to Quintana’s husband. […] Yet I was myself in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed that what had happened remained reversible. That was why I needed to be alone. […]

I needed to be alone so that he could come back. (pgs. 32-33)

As she looks back at that time, Didion identifies a number of instances of this covert thinking which remained somewhat hidden from others and even from herself: she had not been able to read the obituaries when they appeared in the papers as they would have confirmed John’s death; she had resisted the suggestions to clear his clothes, to give them away to charity, as he might need them when he returns; she had declined a request from the hospital to donate his organs. ‘How could he come back if they took his organs, how could he come back if he had no shoes?’

In an attempt to make sense of the range of emotions she is experiencing, Didion begins to explore the literature on grief, turning initially to poetry, novels and memoirs. Given that grief touches virtually all of us as some stage in our lives, there is surprisingly little coverage of it in the sources Didion finds close to hand. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most illuminating insights into grief come from Didion herself. In this passage, she distinguishes between our image of what grief will be like and the reality of actually experiencing it for ourselves, a description that rings completely true to me based on my own experience of loss.

In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing.” A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,” rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself. (pgs. 188-189)

Didion is also very good on the feeling of utter disorientation and dislocation that follows the death of a loved one, that fuzzy, ‘mudgy’ state of mind that perhaps only others going through a similar experience can fully recognise. There is clear sense of fragility and vulnerability here.

People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. I have noticed it on my face and I notice it now on others. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness. It is the look of someone who walks from the ophthalmologist’s office into the bright daylight with dilated eyes, or of someone who wears glasses and is suddenly made to take them off. These people who have lost someone look naked because they think themselves invisible. I myself felt invisible for a period of time, incorporeal. I seemed to have crossed one of those legendary rivers that divide the living from the dead, entered a place in which I could be seen only by those who were themselves recently bereaved. (pg. 75)

Intercut with these reflections on bereavement are Didion’s examination of her life with John, in particular, the years they spent in California and their time with Quintana. She describes how even the smallest of objects – often chanced upon at the most unexpected of times – can trigger the vortex effect, the opening up of a tunnel of memories that catapult her into the past. While glancing at a TV commercial, Joan happens to catch sight of a familiar stretch of coastal highway – all of a sudden she is back at Palos Verdes Peninsula, immersed in memories of the house where she and John lived with Quintana when she was a baby.

Reflections from the months leading up to John’s death form another focal point. There are a number of occasions when Joan wonders whether John had sensed that time was running out for him. In the autumn of 2003, John persuaded Joan that they should take a trip to Paris as he feared that if they did not go then, he might never see the city again. Moreover, when she thinks back to the time shortly before his death, Joan recalls John saying several things about his current and previous work which, at the time, made it difficult for her to dismiss his mood as depression (something she considers a typical phase of any writer’s life). Here is just one example of the things that continue to gnaw away at her. It was either the evening of John’s death or the previous night; John and Joan were travelling home in a taxi having just visited Quintana in the ICU unit at Beth Israel North.

Everything he had done, he said, was worthless.

I still tried to dismiss it.

This might not be normal, I told myself, but neither was the condition in which we had just left Quintana.

He said that the novel was worthless.

This might not be normal. I told myself, but neither was it normal for a father to see a child beyond his help. (pg 81-82)

I don’t think I’m up for this, he had said in the taxi on our way down from Beth Israel North that night or the next night. He was talking about the condition in which we had once again left Quintana.

You don’t get a choice, I had said in the taxi.

I have wondered since if he did. (pg. 217)

‘Did he have some apprehension, a shadow?’ These questions and more continue to haunt Joan as she tries to make sense of John’s death, prompting a re-examination of life with her husband as she had previously understood it.

Magical Thinking is a remarkable piece of writing, at once utterly compelling, deeply affecting and emotionally truthful. (There are other threads within Magical Thinking which I haven’t even touched on here, most notably Joan’s account of Quintana’s illness and its impact on her own state of mind.) Didion brings a great deal of honesty and candour to this work. She is relentless in her questioning of herself and of others, constantly seeking to understand what was said, what was felt, what might have been. Certain questions are left unanswered, doubts remain in the mind; and yet there is a sense that the very process of writing this book has helped Didion in some way.

As is often the case when I try to write about a favourite book, I am left feeling that I have fallen short, that I haven’t done it justice, that I have failed to articulate what makes it special. All I can say is that this is an exceptional book. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Delphine de Vigan’s autobiographical novel, Nothings Hold Back the Night, a book that made my ‘best-of’ list last year.

The Year of Magical Thinking is published by Harper Perennial. Source: personal copy.

70 thoughts on “The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

  1. MarinaSofia

    I was utterly overwhelmed by this book too when I read it, although I haven’t yet lost a close loved one to death. I felt it was so honest, raw, genuinely curious and humble: trying to understand and find a way through grief. Just beautiful! I think your review does do it justice, by the way.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Marina. Yes, there is a genuine search for meaning here, a need for Didion to understand and to make sense of everything, both her feelings after John’s death and the nature of her relationship with him when he was alive. Did you write about it by any chance? I’ll head over to yours in a little while to take a look.

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Oh, thanks for the link! I don’t know why this has been described as cold or self-pitying either. Analytical I can buy, but not unfeeling or self-pitying. Like you, I was really struck by Didion’s candour and honesty – there is so much feeling in this book.

          Reply
  2. roughghosts

    I’ll never forget hearing a long in depth interview with Didion after this book was released. I really must read some of her work. Where would you recommend starting?

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I can just imagine how moving that interview must have been. If you’re thinking of fiction, I would recommend starting with her debut novel, Run River, especially as it’s my favourite of the two I’ve read so far. There’s also Play It As It Lays, which is a tour de force and more polished than Run, but I don’t know if you’d like it. (I’ve reviewed both if you need a more in-depth view.) Alternatively, there’s her non-fiction, which always comes very highly recommended. Slouching Towards Bethlehem might be a good one for you to start with. It’s her first collection of non-fiction pieces, plus it was suggested to me when I was looking for recommendations of her work. I’d already read a couple of the pieces online before I bought it and they’re both excellent (I still need to read the whole collection as it’s on my Classics Club list). To be honest, the important thing is to choose one that appeals to you and then read it. She’s such a brilliant writer, so I doubt whether you’ll be disappointed!

      Reply
  3. gertloveday

    I’ve seen this as a 1-woman theatre piece too. I don’t know if this was just something a local actress organised or if it’s been done elsewhere. I didn’t think it worked so well. Didion seems to me to work best on the page, just you and her.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      There was a stage version over here as well, a one-woman production directed by David Hare with Vanessa Redgrave performing the memoir (or maybe ‘reciting’ would be a better word for it). I think it opened on Broadway and then transferred to London. Funnily enough, I was talking to a friend about it at the weekend as she’d been to see it when it was on at the National.) I know what you mean about it not working so well on the stage, though. There’s a real sense of intimacy in the book which might be very hard to reproduce in a different medium. I can imagine some of that feeling getting lost in an auditorium, irrespective of the power of the lead performance.

      Reply
  4. susanosborne55

    I read this some time ago but I remember being struck by Didion’s piercingly, clear-eyed descriptions of grief, illustrated by your quotes. If you’ve lost someone close, it’s as if she is directly addressing you in full understanding of your experience. I think you’re doing yourself an injustice, Jacqui: it’s a very fine review.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Susan. It’s always difficult to write a favourite book, especially one as remarkable as this. Yes, ‘piercingly, clear-eyed’ – that’s a great description for Didion’s observations and reflections. It’s both analytical and very personal – I don’t know how she managed that combination.

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Yes, it was Didion’s way of trying to make some sense out of everything. Even though it’s been more than 25 years since I lost my second parent, the passages on grief really struck a chord with me. I had a whole paragraph on her realisation that she was suffering from ‘complicated grief/pathological bereavement’ (as opposed to the ‘uncomplicated/normal’ form), but it didn’t make the final cut in the end.

          Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you, madame bibi! I’m glad my piece revived a few memories for you (as long as they weren’t too traumatic). Did you review it by any chance? I’ll head over to yours in a little while to take a look.

      Reply
      1. madamebibilophile

        I read it before my blogging days so its not on there, although I do look at books I read before so it may turn up at some point!

        No traumatic memories – its something we all go through and I do believe reading shows us we are not alone.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Ah, I just had a look and couldn’t find anything – that explains it!

          On coping with bereavement – yes, well said. It’s something we all experience if we live long enough ourselves. It’s possible to find some form of solace or comfort here.

          Reply
  5. Naomi

    A couple of months ago I heard this book and Helen Humphreys’ book about grief (Nocturne) being compared on CBC radio. It made me want to read them both!
    “It’s just that their writing takes them in opposite directions. It’s not a contest, but I do feel that Helen Humphreys was more successful [at dealing with her loss through writing]. She has a very deep inclination toward the natural world. Joan Didion is so tenacious about the intellectual life — she’s going to figure it out in her head or she’s not going to figure it out at all. Helen Humphreys will let go of that — what she wants language to do is to move her out of the human sphere and closer to the natural. ”
    http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thenextchapter/tracey-lindberg-tom-jackson-and-mary-dalton-1.3422758/if-you-liked-the-year-of-magical-thinking-you-ll-love-1.3422771

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, that’s really interesting. I’m not familiar with Noctune, but the comments on Humphreys’ affinity with the natural world make me wonder whether it might have something in common with Helen Macdonald’s book, H is for Hawk (part memoir, part exploration of grief, part nature writing). Thanks for the link – I’ll have a listen later today. In the meantime, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Didion to you. The comments about her tenacity and desire to figure things out in her head definitely ring true – she’s very analytical and questioning in her approach here.

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Ha! That would be a tough schedule. Mind you, there is something very compelling about these books once you get into them. I think you’d love H is for Hawk – it’s a book that seems to resonate with so many different readers.

          Reply
  6. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Excellent review, Jacqui – I read this book pre-blog and it’s a powerful, emotional piece of writing. Didion doesn’t shy away from dealing with the difficult things in life. Her book “Blue Nights” is a necessary follow up to this one – Didion has had her fair share of tragedy.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Karen. Yes, remarkably powerful – I’m glad you thought so too. I have a copy of Blue Nights – in fact, a friend just bought it for me last week because she knew I’d been reading this one. I’ll probably leave it for a while though, just to put some space between the two books. What an incredibly tough couple of years that must have been for Didion – I’m not sure how she got through them.

      Reply
  7. Cathy746books

    This is a wonderful review of a very moving book Jacqui. You’ve made me want to reread it. I read it about 5 years ago after my mothers death and the feelings were very raw. Now that my grief has changed it would be interesting to see what I would get from the book now. I have Blue Nights lined up to read in the summer.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Cathy. Gosh, that must have been difficult, reading it so soon after your own mother’s death. I can imagine it being very upsetting in some respects but also strangely comforting as well (especially the passages on grief). I don’t know, but maybe Didion’s experiences helped you feel less alone at the time? It definitely feels like a book to reread at different stages of your life. As you say, our relationship with bereavement changes over time, so it would be an interesting one to revisit now five years down the line.

      Looking forward to seeing what you think of Blue Nights – I’ll keep an eye out for your review. I actually have a copy but will likely leave it till next year. It’s best to put some space between these books, I think.

      Reply
      1. Cathy746books

        I probably read it too soon but I think I was looking for solace and recognition at the time. We’ll see how Blue Nights goes, it is heartbreaking how much Didion had to go through.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Yes, I can understand that. I hope it gave you some form of solace or comfort at the time. Yes, utterly heartbreaking for Didion. It must have such a tough two or three years for her – I’m not quite sure how she managed to get through it…

          Reply
  8. lonesomereadereric

    This is such a wonderful, moving book. Reading your summary, quotes and thoughts about it brought back the incredible power of Didion’s writing. Thank you. The way she writes about obssessing over unanswered/unanswerable questions is particularly striking. For another perspective on an author’s grief at the sudden loss of a life-long partner I’d recommend Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story if you haven’t read it. Oates chronicles the raw emotion of grief, surprising reactions from friends/acquaintences and writes meaningfully about personal survival.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, thanks for your comments, Eric. I’m so glad you were moved by this book as well. (Did you write about it? I’ll take head over yours in a little while to take a look.) Yes, the unanswerable questions and the doubts they raised really got to me. Taken together, they form one of the most compelling and haunting strands of this book for sure. I only hope that Didion was able to find some sense of closure — I hate that word, but it’s probably okay here — in her own mind.

      Thanks for the recommendation of Oates’ memoir – I’ll definitely take a look at that. Actually, I’ve been meaning to try her for a while, ever since I read her excellent introduction to the NYRB edition of Simenon’s novella, Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, a story inspired by his own troubled relationship with a lover in the 1940s. Plus I know you’re a huge fan of her work. I’d like to try one of her novels too – is there one in particular you would recommend to me?

      Reply
      1. lonesomereadereric

        I haven’t written about any of Didion’s books, but I read a lot of them before starting my blog. She’s amazing. I’ve frequently read her essays aloud to my partner when he’s driving.

        I thnk you’d really take to Oates’ work. She’s so intelligent and her fiction can get quite dark, but most importantly she knows how to tell a great story. One of my favourites is a novel called Mysteries of Winterthurn where she plays with the detective genre and explores lots of philosophical questions. A book that’s really representative of her overall style is The Gravedigger’s Daughter – a great multigenerational tale about how an immigrant girl completely reinvents herself. If you want a slender novella to try her writing her book Black Water is a fantastic haunting piece that’s a fictionalization of the Chappaquiddick incident involving Ted Kennedy. I’d love to hear what you think about her books.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Oh, that’s brilliant – thank you! I’ve made a note of all three. (This is one of the things I love about blogging, the personal recommendations from other readers/bloggers.) Black Water sounds especially intriguing, so I think I might try that one first. Cheers.

          Reply
  9. Brian Joseph

    Great commentary Jacqui.

    This is a book that I would like to read.

    Of course it sounds moving. I can understand how a tragic event of the kind that happened to the author can bring about such thoughts. The human mind can be amazing and it can act in surprising ways.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Brian. I found it quite hard to write about this one, but it’s a book I would definitely recommend to you, especially given your interest in psychology, the human mind, and our emotions. I genuinely think you’d get a lot out of it. She’s an amazing writer.

      Reply
  10. bookbii

    Beautiful review Jacqui. I’ve read Blue Nights by Didion, which charts the illness and death of Quintana Roo, as well as Didion’s descent into ‘old age’ (or as she saw it, I think she was 80+ when she wrote it) and that, too, was a moving read. What is hard to convey with Didion is the sheer control in her language, and yet how casual it seems. It simply flows, and there’s an honesty which is almost brutal and yet carefully constructed. Think I’ll be adding this to my (ever expanding) list. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Belinda. Yes, I’m completely with you on the control in Didion’s prose. At first sight, it seems so natural and effortless and yet on closer examination you can see the rigour in the execution. I’ve just been given a copy of Blue Nights by a friend who knows I love Didion’s work, and I’m sure it’ll be an equally powerful read. (Did you write about it or was it pre-blog/in between your different blogs?) In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think of this one if you decide to give it a go.

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Brilliant – I’ll head over to yours in a little while to take a look. (In fact, I’m wondering whether I may have read it when you posted it last year.) Yes, she’s an amazing writer – I’ve reached the stage where I just want to read everything she’s written.

          Reply
  11. naomifrisby

    Excellent review, Jacqui. This is such a powerful book. I read it during my MA after my tutor told me he sobbed over it in an airport which is where he was when he finished reading it. She’s such a precise, insightful writer.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Naomi. I was wondering if you’d read this one. It’s really hard to articulate just how penetrating and moving this book is. I guess our responses to something like this are always going to be very personal depending on our own experiences and where we are in our lives at the time of reading. I can understand your tutor’s reaction to it – it’s heartbreaking to think how tough it must have been for Didion during the months following John’s death.

      Reply
      1. naomifrisby

        Yes, sometimes I find myself thinking about them both working at home and what you need to have been through as a couple to get to a stage where that’s not just possible but a positive thing and then how much of a wrench that must have added to his death, when you’ve spent such huge chunks of time with that person physically present.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Yes, the sheer closeness of their relationship really hit home with me as well. The first draft of my review included something about that, but it didn’t make the final cut. Well, I had a paragraph on Didion’s realisation that she was experiencing the complicated form of grief (as opposed to ‘normal’ bereavement) and how the fact that they had spent so much time with each other, day in day out, must have contributed to that. I can only begin to imagine how painful that must have been for her. It’s the suddenness of John’s death that makes it all the more distressing. As she says in the book: life changes fast; life changes in the instant…

          Reply
  12. Elena

    I had no idea where the title came from, so thank you very much for explaining it on your review, Jacqui. I lost some close relatives in recent years, and it is true there comes a time when you think you can actually do something about it. It’s such a dark, twisted trick of the mind! I haven’t read any of Didion’s works, but this seems like a good place to start.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, you’re welcome, Elena. I wasn’t aware of the significance of the title either until I started reading the book. The human mind can be a strange thing, especially in times of distress and extreme emotional strain. I could relate to that feeling too, a sense that the lost loved one might walk through the door at any minute. I guess it can take a while for us to move through the different stages of grief to reach the point of acceptance.

      You could start with this one, especially if it appeals to you – alternatively there’s Didion’s first collection of non-fiction pieces, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which was suggested to me when I was looking for recommendations of her work. I’ve read a couple of the pieces from it and they’re both excellent. If you’d prefer to try a novel, then I’d recommend her debut ‘Run, River’ as a good place to start, plus it’s my favourite of the two novels I’ve read so far. There’s a review on the blog if you need any more info.

      Reply
  13. 1streading

    I must admit I have an irrational dislike of writers writing about personal tragedy (I know it’s irrational because, if it were poetry, e.g. Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, it wouldn’t bother me at all). Recently the i ran a column written by a woman as her husband recovered from a serious accident which actually made me angry!! However, as non-fiction is the new literature, I think i’m just going to have to get over it.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      No worries, Grant. I realise it’s a book that won’t appeal to everybody. (On a similarish note, I’ve been resisting the calls to read Han Kang’s work despite a wealth of positive reviews from various sources. I’m not sure why. Maybe I think her books will be too uncomfortable for me to read right now – but then again, I’m willing to read other heart-rending works, books like Didion’s memoir for instance. It’s weird, and I can’t pinpoint a rational explanation for it!)

      Out of interest, did you feel the same dislike for some of Knausgaard’s explorations of personal tragedy? I guess I’m thinking of the sections in the first book in the series where he writes about the death of his father and its impact on his own emotions/state of mind. I must admit to finding the second half of A Death in the Family extremely distressing, so much so that I don’t think I could carry on with that series now. (Well, there are other reasons too, but that’s definitely a factor.)

      Reply
  14. Scott W.

    Though I haven’t read this book (or rather, got into it only to feel I couldn’t go further at a certain point given some personal circumstances at the time), I read around it quite a bit – reviews, interviews, commentaries. Now I plan to return to it.

    I appreciate that quotation about “healing,” which one hears all the time here in the U.S. in the wake of both expected deaths and entirely preventable atrocities, and even from people with whom one is closest. It’s always struck me as rooted in a denial of death; there are some things from which one does not recover.

    Anyway, kudos on this sensitive and powerful commentary and on the exceptionally direct and lucid way you convey the book’s impact on you.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Scott – you are too kind. I can understand your need to put this book aside due to personal circumstances as it’s not always easy to find the ‘right’ time to read something like this. You know, it’s funny – I hadn’t even intended to read this one yet, but I opened it during a tidy-up last month and was drawn in by those opening lines, ‘Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant…’ In some ways that sense of spontaneity really helped as I hadn’t had time to brood about the prospect of reading it before launching in. The contemplation came later once I’d finished the book.

      I hope you can find the right moment to return to this book. It’s so raw and candid, but very insightful too. I found it incredibly worthwhile (that quote on healing was one of the standout passage for me). I’d be curious to hear what you think of it too.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I hadn’t read it, Guy – thanks so much for the link. I was struck by Didion’s comments on the emotional impact of the diagnosis and how difficult it was for her to come to terms with that knowledge even though her condition was relatively mild (relapsing-remitting) at the time. The uncertainly and fear of the unknown must be one of the biggest challenges. I was also struck by the way in which her doctors/other medical professionals underestimated the extent of that emotional impact simply because her condition was relatively benign.

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Yes, I’ve encountered one or two doctors like that – a strong focus on the clinical symptoms with little thought given to the patient’s emotional well-being.

          Reply
  15. Pingback: A-Z Index of Book Reviews (listed by author) | JacquiWine's Journal

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Many thanks for this – I hadn’t seen it. Interesting that she only remembered the failures and slights from her school days. I rather like the idea of Joan Didion as the first female president!

      Reply
  16. Emma

    Wonderful and heartfelt review, Jacqui.

    I know it’s a powerful book, it’s been on my shelf for a while and I’ve chickened out in fear of the emotional tidal wave I expect. But I’ll get to it eventually.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Emma. I wouldn’t normally read something like this but seeing as it was Didion I made an exception here. It’s definitely worth reading, but you might have to pick your moment. Last year wouldn’t have been right for me for various reasons, but when it caught my eye back in March, I just picked it up and ran with it.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      It’s definitely worth your time, Seamus. I suppose our responses to this book are always going to be very personal depending on our own experiences of loss and where we are in our lives at the time. Last year wouldn’t have been right for me for various reasons, but I’m glad I’ve read it now. Would be very curious to hear what you think of it.

      Reply
  17. Gemma

    I just reserved a copy of this at the library after reading your review, Jacqui. It sounds like a very powerful and insightful book.

    Reply
  18. Caroline

    I started this when it came out but because I liked it so much, I stopped reading. Now I want to read it again. And de Vigan’s book too. I’m not as shocked about the idea of “healing” as I am about the “how” and “when” it should happen. It seems that prolonged grief is scary for people and society.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I doubt whether I could have stopped reading this part way through – I just found it so absorbing. The comparison with de Vigan’s book is interesting. Even though Didion’s and de Vigan’s situations were very different, there are certain similarities between their responses to loss, particularly the self-examination/questioning and the urge/need to write about their experience almost as a way of dealing with it. So, a form of coping mechanism coupled with a desire to understand. I would love to hear what you think of them. (Also, I agree with your observations of grief – as a society, we could be a lot better at supporting people when they lose a loved one, especially a partner or someone very close.)

      Reply
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