The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion – 7/10

“Time is the school in which we learn.”

year of magical thinkingThis is the story of a year of Didion’s life – the year started by the death of her husband. A very precise account of the experience of grief, with sections on vortices of grief (the memories, items and events that pull us back into grief when we think we have overcome it), the physiological effects (cognitive failures, cold) and assorted other ponderings. I found the couple of pages on why we consider grief to be a condition to be overcome and a healing process at the same time spot-on.

It is an extremely personal account, and not just of her own life during that year – there are so many names of friends included (one presumes real as they all seem to be personages of modern American literature) and her daughter’s assorted medical emergencies in the year are recounted in some detail. Of course there are some details which are omitted, and their omission is obvious (her daughter’s occupation, information about her mother and father, and there is a reference to her daughter’s adoption which is then never explained).

Didion’s selection of events to be included is selective, and is clearly selected to fit the theme of her book, that is, her recognition of her altered mental state due to grief, her wishes to be able to change history. It’s part memoir, part examination of a particular phenomenon through personal events – not unlike Happier At Home, or Sleeping Naked is Green (though those were happier topics).

The title took a long time to make sense to me, until Didion admits (late in the book) that she had been trying to keep life the same, to bring John back, to freeze time just before he died. The penultimate chapter on his last few days – her horror at obliterating his last dictionary search, working her way through the reading pile next to his chair and finding a newspaper with a date in the New Year (after he died); Didion writes the moments very well.

It’s definitely worth reading and is beautifully written, but I did not find it as moving as I expected, somehow – less moving than The End of Your Life Book Club and similar works.

I think I will read Blue Nights, another work of non-fiction which follows this one chronologically, but I won’t hurry to buy it.

Additional info:

Copy bought at Strand Bookstore in New York on a recent visit. 
Publisher: Vintage, 227 pages (paperback)
Order The Year of Magical Thinkingfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

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