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I read this book when i was in the agony of my own selective mind. I read this book when my fears were counting the blessings i had, i read this book in black and blue and in every moment of unending pain and nerve wrecking short lived happiness. I am glad to have finally endorsed the idea of loss and the true meaning of what losing and living after means. I am glad that i found this book once, in a small bookshop that day, i am glad that i felt that this book could give some closure to the loss that crept banging my head for so long. I am glad that i found the lost comfort in u.
In an attempt to bring the greatest possible diversity to my feedback, I present you with two reviews in one. My fiancee and I often read and critique the same books so I give you a review in matching His and Hers format below:
Laura's Review (Hers):
I enjoyed this book, as much as a book about grief can be enjoyed. Ms. Didion skillfully articulated her feelings and thoughts after the sudden death of her husband and during her daughter's illness. Having recently lost a brother I was able to connect deeply with many of her thoughts, particularly the magical thinking she describes. It's not often that I read a book and think "oh my gosh, that's EXACTLY how I've felt" but this book did that for me. Ms. Didion helped me be able to articulate my own thoughts at times when I couldn't begin to articulate them myself.
I applaud Ms. Didion's willingness and ability to put herself out in public view in such a raw, vulnerable way. Death of a loved one is, I believe, a deeply personal experience and I can't imagine sharing my innermost vulnerabilities and thought processes with the public. Perhaps doing so was cathartic for Ms. Didion; I don't know. I do know, however, that it takes a great deal of courage to do so.
Some reviewers have criticized the book for its representation of the privileged life Ms. Didion lives. While I agree that there are numerous references to events and experiences that many people will never have, I don't fault her for that. She wrote this book from her own perspective, from her own viewpoint, and as such she presented her life honestly. I respect a person who is not apologetic for having had such opportunities.
I recommend this book. While it is not a happy read, it is evocative and beautifully written.
Rob's Review (His):
Seldom is a topic of such keen and personal import brought to the page with this much skill and candor. Didion lays bare her soul as she deals with the sudden death of her husband in a year that finds her experiencing all the phases of grief in textbook fashion. The Year should be required reading for anyone dealing with loss if for no other reason than to allow the reader the knowledge that grieving is a universal, expected and normal reaction to loss.
The only factor which leaves it dangling at less than a five-star rating for me is that it's not all that personally relatable. I appreciate endlessly her skill and honesty in this work but never having had the experience she describes it fails to resonate with me. I empathize greatly and appreciate her retelling of this period in her life but there are no points at which I can pin my story to her own. As such, it is an interesting museum piece, a fragment of someone else's life, but not something I can currently internalize.
If you haven't read Didion, I'm sorry I refuse to believe that you are a real book-lover. She is a truly gifted writer and I felt privileged to be able to catch a glimpse of how the mind of this stupendous writer worked. She writes both fiction as well as non-fiction, but it is her non-fiction (such as this one) that strikes a chord with me. This book is about how she comes to terms with the sudden demise of her husband of forty years. As you read you realize that she isn't just writing things down to make a book out of it, she is actually being a passive observer of her own reactions, examining and trying to make sense of it all, not an ebullition of melancholia as one would expect from someone under the circumstances. This is a truly well-written book, it draws you in and makes you want to stay. I loved it.
The Year of Magical Thinking documents the process of grieving that Didion went through in the year after her husband's death, and has been widely acclaimed for its detached, stylised writing. A case of the emperor's new clothes? To my mind her voice is cold, dishonest and vague: there is no heart to this book. Given the subject matter, I find this particularly chilling. She intellectualises her grief for her husband to the extent of removing all emotion. There is no sense of who her husband was – just an awful lot about Didion herself, a clinical recitation of all the literature on grief she’s read, and endless throwaway remarks about her privileged status in Malibu and New York. Then there's the subplot of The Year of Magical Thinking, which is a devastating one: her daughter, Quintana, is gravely ill in hospital while Didion herself is trying to come to terms with her husband's death (Quintana will in fact die the following summer, after Didion had drafted her manuscript but before the book was published). But not once does Didion express any love or warmth for her sickening daughter. Maybe this is why I struggled with this book and am judging her so harshly. In a recent documentary on Netflix (The Centre Will Not Hold), the closest Didion can come to saying something even remotely affectionate about her daughter is "her humour worked for me". Other than that, it's all about Didion. One review of Blue Nights, the book she wrote after The Year of Magical Thinking, about her daughter's death, puts it this way: "What is perhaps most odd about this work is how little we ultimately learn about Quintana, who remains in the background and sometimes fades entirely from view." It’s hard to feel any empathy for someone so resolutely focused on herself amid such sadness and tragedy.
Granted, it’s not your conventional love story, ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ is the story of a marriage that ends abruptly, suddenly. Didion writes from the realist perspective, practical, abstract, cold almost. Her husband of 40 years, mid-scotch, dies at the dinner table in their apartment of a heart attack. “She’s a pretty cool customer” notes a hospital observer. Loss is a fearful subject, it’s a frontier nobody ever expects to cross and it’s a subject that nobody ever really talks about. People change the subject, if you lose your partner nobody asks how you cope with the empty side of the bed and what happens at the end of the day when all you want to do is curl up in the conversation of your partner, your best friend. Didion explores the magical thinking that takes over- signs, meanings, messages, whether her husband knew intuitively what would happen as she traces and traverses backwards and forwards across the landscape of their relationship and marriage, his death.
I couldn't get into this until, one day, i had nothing else to read and so,carried on reading. It took time but I started to come alongside her detachment and obsession. Towards the end I found myself in tears and tried to read something out to my wife but stopped, blubbing. My own heart attack experience was explained beautifully. A small quote - along the lines of - "the clear blue sky from which the plane fell", was so perfectly descriptive of how arbitrary life can seem. What do you recommend I read next?
I haven't read much Joan Didion so have no markers to steer by, but this book was rubbish and fabulous, repetitive and singular, funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, all the way through. The single word I think I'd use to describe it is 'Lonesome'. Because it is. I admired her fortitude as well as weakness, her grief as well as her (few) joys, and I can only think it was written as both a cathartic and a learning experience.