• The Year of Magical Thinking

  • By: Joan Didion
  • Narrated by: Vanessa Redgrave
  • Length: 1 hr and 28 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (8,941 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

When celebrated writer Joan Didion’s life was altered forever, she wrote a new chapter. In this adaptation of her iconic memoir, Didion transforms the story of the shattering loss of her husband and their daughter into a one-woman play performed by Tony Award winner Vanessa Redgrave, who originated the role on Broadway in 2007. Written with Didion’s trademark style of cool observation, The Year of Magical Thinking weaves back and forth in time, taking listeners on a poignant journey through heartbreak, grief, and resilience. It’s an unforgettable theatrical experience that resonates with anyone who has ever loved.

©2005 Joan Didion (P)2020 AO Media LLC

Our favorite moments from The Year of Magical Thinking

"That's what I'm here to tell you."
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"I guess that was when I knew..."
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"There's nothing I do not discuss with John."
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  • The Year of Magical Thinking
  • "That's what I'm here to tell you."
  • The Year of Magical Thinking
  • "I guess that was when I knew..."
  • The Year of Magical Thinking
  • "There's nothing I do not discuss with John."

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What listeners say about The Year of Magical Thinking

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Difficult story, but worth it

** Important to know that this is a shorter version of the book by the same name available
on Audible but not narrated by Vanessa Redgrave. The words here are from the one woman
play of the same name.

I saw Vanessa Redgrave do the first run of The Year of Magical Thinking in 2007 on Broadway.
She entered the theater looking really bad. The evening before she had not been well and had
canceled. I flew from Florida to NYC that morning so I was worried after hearing she had let
the understudy take her place the night before.

The play was excellent. It was Ms. Redgrave sitting on the stage as if just telling us the story.
It was very difficult to hear the pain and confusion. I think people often do not understand what
magical thinking is. It was the perfect title for this book. In the early part she says she thinks
he is still alive in California due to the time difference. That is a good example of magical thinking.
Sentences that begin with "if" are often magical thinking. There is a difference in the play and
the recording. Ms. Redgrave was 70 when she was in the play and now is 83 so there is a bit
of a difference in her voice. I really wish they had recorded the original play for video and audio.
The play was also different because she had an audience and she gets juiced because of them.

When Ms. Redgrave came out of the stage door after the performance she was wearing a VERY much
washed and worn T-shirt and Jeans. We were sad after the end of the play, but when she literally
popped out of the theater and said hello we were immediately ok. Someone I had talked to earlier told
her I had flown up just for the play and she said she was touched that I had made that much of an effort.
She signed my program and an autobiography of hers from years before. I watched as she spoke to
people who are obviously longtime fans. She asked a man about his grandchild because the last time she
saw him the child was very ill. He said the child was fine and back to everyday activities. She asked a
woman how her mother was and asked that she tell her she was sorry she did not see her
It was a very nice experience which was cut short by the arrival of my Supershuttle ride to the airport.
The only time they were EVER on time in New York to pick me up had to be the very day I would have
liked more time!

The part of the play I remember feeling so emotional about was at the end when she is asking if she lied
to her daughter about the medical tests and care making her well. Every mother tells a child they are
going to be ok unless they know for certain the child is dying and some do it even then. That was a hard
bit of the story for a mother (or anyone else sensitive like me.)

Vanessa Redgrave was scheduled to do the play for a benefit at the Church of St. John the
Divine in April 2009. Her daughter Natasha Richardson had died in March of 2009 and the
performance was rescheduled for late October. That would have been THE performance to
see. I give her a lot of credit for going on with it despite how much it cost her.

A very good performance of a best seller.

(Sorry for the dangling "she". I have tried to fix it, but it is the website putting it out there. On the
space I type it is right!)

121 people found this helpful

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Trigger warning

The reading is amazing and due to experiencing a recent lose totally has the vibes of lose. It is heartfelt and wrenching. Be careful. It can destroy you.

57 people found this helpful

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The Year of Magical Thinking

A strange and haunting book, I am not sure if it portrays grief or a mind not accepting grief. It certainly makes you think . The narration was very good.

44 people found this helpful

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How long will the impact last?

The narration was moving, the story did and is still making me think and wonder.

41 people found this helpful

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I Had Difficulty Relating

People have been recommending this book to me for a number of years, and I finally got around to listening to it.

Let me first say that Vanessa Redgrave's performance is spectacular. She embodies the narrator to the bone. This is not a reading. It's a performance, and it's brilliant.

The narrator's denial of reality--what she calls "magical thinking" is somewhat compelling. I was most engaged with the parts where it was clear that she was trying to "rewrite" her husband's death in the same way she'd rewrite any story she had created from her imagination. This idea that she could somehow change the course of a death by backing up and changing a particular detail captivated me--undoubtedly because I am a writer myself. And of course, it's well written--it's Joan Didion, after all. So, it got off to a good and compelling start, and I was even thinking about recommending it to someone.

But as it continued, so much of this story sat with me as the complaints of the exceedingly and excessively overprivileged, told with an apparent blindness to that privilege. I had difficulty relating, despite the universality of the loss itself or even the fact that I myself only recently lost someone close to me. I am normally an overly compassionate person, reduced to tears easily, but something about this written narrator--whom I assume is Didion herself--was just so off-putting to me, I haven't even felt compelled enough to see how it ends, and I have only 13 minutes left.

Perhaps reading the original, unabridged book would have been a different and better experience for me; I can't say. Like I said, I enjoyed the way Vanessa Redgrave brought it to life--though I wonder if something got lost in the adaptation, which shortened the original.

NOTE: I did finally listen to the ending--only because Audible turned it on when I started the car--and I'm glad I did. Didion's words at the end reflecting on her process of magical thinking and the nature of grief were pretty exquisite. So, I'm adding a star to my review and editing it slightly.

34 people found this helpful

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Breathtaking

I cannot recall a short story that dug and hit me so deep. Read it.

30 people found this helpful

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I Really Enjoyed This Book

I'm thankful the Author chose to share her experience in this book. The narration really helped give the story it's tone.

29 people found this helpful

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Poignant and beautifully heartbreaking

What a beautiful and poignant look into grief. This journey through her thoughts is captured so well I feel I must have stood beside her watching this unfold. Captivating, heartbreaking, yet somehow hopeful. “I love you more than one more day.” We should all love this way fully and complete! I will be thinking of the writing and the performance for a long time to come.

24 people found this helpful

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beautiful; sad

Brilliantly written. Redgrave is amazing. I had the sense that we hear Didion's voice through narrator.

14 people found this helpful

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Moving

Incredible narration and writing.
This book wasn’t quite what I’d imagined but it was absolutely stunning and captivated me from the beginning.
It touches deeply into parts of the human experience that are rarely so poetically expressed.

12 people found this helpful

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  • tamara
  • 11-03-21

A loss shaped story, laden with warmth

A pulsating memoir of where our mind-body goes during grief and all the promises and memories and sureties and uncertainties we face during the process, as well as the heavy set distance of time gone by. Didion has prefaced death as a beauty in script. she does this by owning her presence and the details that come into the foreground of her experiences. This could only be captured so honestly with the narrator Redgrave, as an emotive long form monologue of sheer surreal thinking out loud one does when waking up to one's self. The sighs and sorrow I experienced listening to this only made me want to remember where and who I am at every moment of my waking life.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Mark
  • 01-03-22

Grief as Art

This brief mediation on loss and love is incredibly powerful and packs a massive emotional punch underscored by Vanessa Regrave's cooly detached delivery.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Helen
  • 01-02-22

A very moving reaction to two tragedies.

Joan Didion turns her attention to the magical thinking experienced by so many people in bereavement, the almost unacknowledged belief that if I do this, or I am good in that situation, the dead person will return. (And will of course need his shoes - or even the buttons being cut off her favourite dresses.)
Most people cannot express such huge loss so well, and very few will have suffered the double blow of the death of a child.
it was a thoughtful book, almost a warning to the reader that such scenes can never be redrafted. The reader/listener is accepted and never made to feel an intruder.
The delivery was a very moving performance by Vanessa Redgrave.

2 people found this helpful

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  • LynAG
  • 04-02-22

Very Disappointing

I am slightly hard of hearing and I'm afraid that due to VR's accent and slightly husky voice, I found it very difficult to make out a lot of the dialogue. I was determined to get to the end but I did miss a fair amount of the story.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 09-20-22

pure

I felt it.s authentically and pray that I outlive all of my children. i don't think what is left of me after their death would have a soal.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-26-22

Can someone tell me what this was about?

Great narration but I’m totally confused at what this was about ! Listened to the end 2 hours I won’t get back

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  • Graham G Grant
  • 07-10-22

When the mourning comes

Didion’s book about bereavement is a cool-headed exploration of a difficult subject. She was described as a ‘cool customer’ by a doctor after her husband John died in 2003. Beneath the surface, of course, she was in crisis. Here she reflects on the cruellest aspect of losing a loved one - getting used to their absence, minute after minute, and day after day, threatening to rob life of any meaning. Her pain was compounded when her daughter Quintana fell ill and died, only a couple of years after John’s death. There’s a lot of philosophical insight and raw emotion. Didion writes that grief is a place we don’t truly know until we get there, even if we’ve prepared for it. Redgrave, who played Didion on stage, does a good job of the narration; at times the slightly husky delivery, while no doubt an accurate impersonation, slightly mitigates against clarity. It’s a relatively short listen about a topic - death and dying, and the repercussions for the bereaved - that to some extent remains taboo, but should be discussed more. Didion - who died in 2021 - deserved credit for contributing to that important conversation.

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  • Wendy
  • 06-28-22

Heartbreaking but beautiful

Loved this. It was so beautiful, relatable and heartbreaking. The narrators voice was the perfect choice.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Frieda
  • 06-21-22

Unusual

I'm not sure on this book. I started it because it was a short listen and that is what I was looking for.
I imagine if you have just experienced grief you would experience this book totally differently.
There was a lot of remembering a shared life, and how you go out of your way not to be triggered when you aren't ready to deal with it.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • ED
  • 05-29-22

Very poor narration

The narrator keeps speaking in an affected voice that is rather difficult to understand, presumably for dramatic effect. It comes across as very strange and unnatural. It would greatly improve the listening experience with a narrator that speaks naturally and clearly.

The text itself is so-so. I didn't find it particularly interesting and certainly not profound, but perhaps it was because I couldn't hear half the words.

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  • Madeline Bradley
  • 06-24-21

Incredible Performance

Very moving. Didion’s writing is stunning, tough to follow at times but so passionate that it doesn’t matter if parts haven’t quite added up or made sense. So much passion in this performance from Vanessa Redgrave, truly beautiful.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-07-22

Abridged

Very disappointed that the full version isn’t available on Audible AU seeing as it appears to be available elsewhere.
Won’t bother with this

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • colacuzz
  • 05-17-22

Not what I was expecting

I'd heard rave reviews about this book, and being only a short story I thought I'd give it a go.

Unfortunately it didn't really float my boat. Just not my thing.

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  • anne conlon
  • 04-21-22

highly memorable. excellent writing.

exquisitely narrated. such a perfect book. highly recommended. short and perfectly sweet and excellently wrought by Joan Didion.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-10-22

Extraordinary

Vanessa Redgrave’s reading really is a performance; this book is very close to being a monologue. Redgrave captures Joan Didion’s voice so perfectly; American, wavering, perplexed. She brings so much more to this audible telling than a hard copy would. For Didion to have somehow got through this tremendous loss was no mean feat, and while it may not offer up any quick remedies or pop psychology for grief, it is a stunning emotional outpouring. Having recently lost a family member- I found this book to be incredibly moving.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-01-22

Lost my interest

I listened to this book for over an hour, but lost interest. The book did not seem to have any gripping story line to keep me interested.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-31-22

A beautiful story about life, love, relationships

A brief reflective story about life, love, relationships and the struggle for acceptance and understanding imparted by unexpected loss of loved ones.

The narrator, Vanessa Redgrave, gives a wonderfully powerful performance bringing the character and the character’s struggle to life as she delivers this soliloquy.

I was left reflective and wanting more of both story and narration.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-27-22

Honest tragical humour

A beautiful description of grief. Read with warm th. I loved the dawning of an unnoticed, gentle, let go.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-19-22

Truly touching

My heart was in this story from the beginning to the very end. Truly a beautiful recount and read perfectly.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-10-22

Powerful and moving

An insightful and elegant reflection on grief and loss delivered beautifully by Vanessa Redgrave.
We’ll with the listening.

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