Monday, 16 February 2009

Book of the fortnight: The Year of Magical Thinking

Um, you may have noticed that my rather optimistic initial post was called 'Book of the week'. I'm not organised enough to have kept that up even into the second week, so I've scaled it down a bit!

Having appealed to Mark when I got no books at all for Christmas, and resorted to reading more of my Stephen King back catalogue (The Shining this time, an absolute classic even for those of you who hate everything King, but surprising how much was added to the film by Stanley Kubrick - there you go, two reviews for the price of one), I got a mountain of books for my birthday, so I should have plenty of meterial to keep the feature up this time.

The first on the pile was Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (sponsored by Jo Smith). Ostensibly a record of the year following her husband's death, a time when her daughter was also seriously ill, it is really a treatise on the nature of grief, of loneliness, and a memoir of a life lived together.

Didion's writing is sometimes lyrical, drawing on her vast literary knowledge for discussions of death, sometimes analytical, looking instead to medical texts and the coroner's report to make sense of her loss. Some passages of medical jargon had to be read several times over, which spoiled the flow of the writing.

Some readers may also find her style cold - there is no vast emotional outpouring of grief, rather the devastatingly real minutae of living without someone close. But that doesn't make it any the less powerful; the passage about her daughter reading a dedication at the memorial service - "Even more than one more day, as you used to say to me" - gets me even now.

The subject may not be for everyone, but I found it a heartbreakingly brilliant portrayal of loss. Like Jo said, it's an odd book to give someone as a present but I'll certainly be passing it on to everyone I know.

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