The weeks and months that followed "cut loose any fixed idea I had about death, about illness, about probability and luck...about marriage and children and memory...about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."
In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion explores with electric honesty and passion a private yet universal experience. Her portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad, will speak directly to anyone who has ever loved a husband, a wife, or a child.
Listen to Joan Didion's full-hour interview with Charlie Rose.
©2005 Joan Didion; (P)2005 HighBridge Company
"Many will greet this taut, clear-eyed memoir of grief as a long-awaited return to the terrain of Didion's venerated, increasingly rare personal essays....This is an indispensable addition to Didion's body of work and a lyrical, disciplined entry in the annals of mourning literature." (Publishers Weekly)
"The Year of Magical Thinking is not a downer. On the contrary. Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative." (The New York Times)
This is the best book I have ever listened to. Joan Didion has so much insight, and compassion. I wanted to cry whenever I listened, but I didn't want it to end. I was careful who I recommended the book to; some people I know are too fragile to listen to this, I think. The narrator was perfect; you believed she was Joan, and I marvel at her strength in reading the book, because I'm sure she nearly broke down reading some of the passages. Absolutely top notch!
This may be the best audiobook I have downloaded from Audible in more than 2 1/2 years of membership. Richly deserving of the National Book Award for 2005. Didion is a terrific writer. You feel her experience (the narrator makes you believe that she is Didion, not a mean feat). The book opens with the death of her husband, John, and the chronic & serious illness of their adult daughter, Quintana. The book chronicles the next year of Didion's life, dealing with death, being alone, her daughter's condition ... but much of the time either in a sort of state-of-shock or distracted by Quintana's ongoing illness & always with recollections of their past together. The first 1/2, even 3/4 of the book is a bit like a dream sequence, unfocused, just as Didion's life was at the time (a "mudge," as she & her daughter call this feeling). The pace of the book builds & builds, but very subtly, such that when the last 1/4 appears, a more analytical Didion resurfaces and you get the sense of what it was like to be in her shoes over the whole period, and the emptiness of loss, and the need to go on.
This is not a preachy volume nor a depressing volume. If it was, it would not be so powerful. Rather, it is a book you experience by reading. You do not have to have had a loss, like Didion's, to identify with her situation. Because the book is written that well.
A good sign of its quality -- from my standpoint -- is that I plan to keep it on my iPOD to read again. I haven't done that for a single audiobook of the 100+ I've had the pleasure of enjoying from Audible these last few years.
I wanted very much to *love* this book. It fell short of my expectation. It was my first introduction to Joan Didion, and she did a very good job of reading it herself. (Can't you just hear the "but" coming....?)
while Didion's book works in both the raw, emotional detritus from her grief and the clinical research studies that she depended on to lead her through the grief process, the word "pretentious" kept coming to mind as I listened to this book.
I say "pretentious" because Didion's constant references to her glamorous literatti lifestyle are very distracting. As one example, she speaks about visiting her daughter in the hospital in LA, and how worried she was about money, and then proceeds to describe the luxury hotel in which she lives for a month.
Didion's mannerisms are also irritating. Every time she references bringing her baby daughter home from the hospital -- which is a LOT of times -- she includes the name of the hospital and the city: "Saint John's Hospital in Santa Monica..." It's a bizarre affectation that grated on my ears and nearly led me to turn off the darn book.
Despite Didion's being in a somewhat different orbit than most people I know, her delicate exploration of grief was done well. It meanders, and criss-crosses time, but I think that accurately illustrates how grief makes people reel, as if there's no reliable context for them to continue their living.
Joan Didion is one of America's treasures. She has always skillfully held her matter of fact mirror up to Americans and says, "This is who you are...love yourself for it."
In this book she provides an honest telling of what a human being does when confronted with ordinary, extremely emotional, sudden shifts of life when their world as they have known it is somehow no longer that.
This is not an inspiring book if you expect to feel as you would after plugging yourself into an episode of OPRAH. It is an inspiring book if you are moved by how the machinery of the human being moves through daily life when that daily life has become unreal. And that unreality becomes what is normal, if even for a time. And, although we know we are not mad, we supposed others are. Because they are not walking the path of our magical world, where somehow we are able to make sense of the chaos. This book is a comfort to anyone going or having gone through mourning. It doesn't give you any answers. We don't need any. We only need to know that our magical world an ordinary experience and it is ok not to feel or be as those not on the path with us think or say we should feel or be.
This book can be extremely comforting to anyone who lives through the death of a loved one. I can see from reading other reviews that some people don't get it; 3 years ago I wouldn't have either. When you're in "the twilight zone" of grief, you appear to be recovering from loss in a straight-forward, linear fashion--from the outside. Didion captures the jumbled emotions, guilt, irrational thought patterns, dreams, paralysis and flashbacks that she and others have lived through with the presence of mind of a gutsy, professional writer. Thanks, Joan, I'm not crazy after all.
This book is a tremendous effort to express the complicated grief process that one person went through after the sudden death of their spouse. It is touching, sometimes distressing, and sometimes confusing, much like the grief process itself.
I felt compelled to write a review since so many reviews here seem to criticism Ms. Didion for not grieving in the correct way or not expressing her grief in the right way. This is a memoir. It is about her life and her experienes. It doesn't follow any rules and I believe that is the point. She is letting you experience her grief experience. She's not talking about everyone's grief experience or how you should grieve.
Overall it was a very interesting and insightful read. If you don't enjoy memiors, however, you might not enjoy the style. But this is an excellent book.
Didion's use of language is perhaps the most magical element of this book. Combined with a very appropriate narrator, this was really quite moving. This is probably the best audiobook I've listened to so far.
While I enjoyed this book, I think Good Grief by Lolly Winston does a better job of allowing you inside the grief process -- including a very memorable scene of showing up to work in pajamas; knowing it is not right, but unable to stop yourself.
The Year Of Magical Thinking is less about the process of grief and more about memoir and memory. In the end, I wasn't sure where the main character was in her "grief" or what she had been through. Just a lot of snapshots of life before and after the loss. Perhaps that is all it is meant to be.
I have always like the tight, terse and outsider view that Didion has brought to everything she rights about and worried about how this would work out. Nothing to worry about since the narration is wonderful and Didion's words, emotions and bittersweet experiences are tenderly and accurately reflected. It is amazing to "read" and better to savor. Wish I had a "rewind" button.
Simply, a brilliantly clear, wrenching account. Deeply moving, never sentimental or manipulative, Didion uses exact descriptions, exact language to tell her story. Not a word is out of place. It's also one of the best read books. The narrator is fantastic.
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