Monday, 21 May 2007

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

One day you will lose some one you love, you may have already. Each of us will deal with it differently yet the same. The same because we can mark our progress and failures according to the K├╝bler-Ross grief cycle, the details of which are set out below.

Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news
Denial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitable
Anger stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up
Bargaining stage: Seeking in vain for a way out
Depression stage: Final realization of the inevitable
Acceptance stage: Finally finding the way forward

Differently because each grief is the history of the life lost and left. Joan Didion is a famous American journalist, essayist, and novelist. Her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, was published October 4, 2005. The book-length essay chronicles the year following her husband's death, during which Didion's daughter, Quintana, was also gravely ill. The book is both a vivid personal account of losing a partner after 40 years of professional collaboration and marriage, and a broader attempt to describe the mechanism that governs grief and mourning.

It is clear that she moves in top social circles from her life style, which naturally goes by unremarked. The prose is clear and simple, and is best described as personal reportage, and hints rather then shouts the underlying pain of trying to make sense of how/why her husband died. It is intellectually brilliant yet emotionally cold. For a very different account of a writer dealing with grief read Blake Morrison, And when Did You Last See Your Father? Its revealing to me that she had loathed Dylan’s Thomas widow, Caitlin, highly emotional book, Leftover Life to Kill .

What I am about to say is not a spoiler as her daughter health is not used to build up to a point of hope in the account. But if true then it illustrates that Joan may still be stuck in grief or in writing this book moved on. Quintana seemed to be getting better during the period the book covers, she died of complications from acute pancreatitis on August 26, 2005, in New York City at age 39 after an extended period of illness. The New York Times reported that Didion would not change the book to reflect her daughter's death. "It's finished," she said.

Would I recommend it? I hesitate because the account reveals a brilliant, strong woman who is able to do what she does best and write about circumstances that would floor many of us. You finish the last page respecting but not loving her. Don’t read it if you want a cosy cry, but if you look at Death with pride and stand tall she is your woman.

“You may have enemies whom you hate, but not enemies whom you despise. You must be of your enemy: then the success of your enemy shall be your success too.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

1 comment:

  1. John - it appears we do have some of the same impressions of this book, however, you were much more eloquent in your description. My hat is off to you. I don't believe I would recommend this book especially if I thought the person was looking for comfort. That is certainly not what you get with this one. Nice review!


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