Jan 07

The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking

by Joan Didion


Picture 1 Non-Fiction / Autobiography / Memoir
First Published in 2005
Publisher: Knopf
Winner of The National Book Award 2005
and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and The Pulitzer Prize (Biography/Autobiography)

Click here to buy this book (with free delivery)

Book Synopsis:

In a second, Joan Didion’s life was thrown into turmoil when her husband John Gregory Dunne unexpectedly died of a massive heart attack in 2003. Not only was her husband of 40 years gone, but two days before his death, their daughter Quintana had been hospitalized after falling seriously ill. Life as Joan knew it had ended.

Joan’s grief leads her to a state of ‘magical thinking’, and Joan lucidly writes of her experience of that time in her life. A time when although she knew intellectually that John was dead, she found herself keeping John’s shoes for him. For when he returned.

This is a unique and honest revelation of Joan’s personal experience of grief. Of a time spent wishing. Her year of magical thinking.

Picture 3My Book Review:

“Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

In a heartbeat.

Or the absence of one.”

I have been fortunate that I have not lost someone close to me. Not yet. But the inevitability of death is ever present.

In this book, Joan reveals her experience of grief in the year following her husband John’s death. She reveals how her state of mind changed and flowed over the next few months, her inner turmoil, the strange ideas and convictions that gripped her and the overwhelming loss that she felt.

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing what we expect it to be.”

Joan uses the comparison of the death of her parents to her experience to the death of John. Her parents were 85 and 91 when they died, and she felt sadness, loneliness and regret, but she “would still get up the morning and send out the laundry.”

But “Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

Joan talks about “the vortex effect” – of how one trigger of thought, like passing by a restaurant, would remind her of a time they ate there, which would remind her of another experience, which would take her to a different event years ago, eventually sucking her deep into the past. Into memories of John. She began avoiding any venue that she might associate with him to avoid the vortex.

This is strangely not a depressing book. It is of course about an extremely sad, lost and depressed woman, but Joan Didion writes her murky state of mind with such clarity. Moreover, the state of grieving is not something I have had to experience, nor would choose to, but someday I might have no choice but to experience it. I feel that I want to know something about grief, especially because in our society, displays of grief are frowned upon, and therefore our understanding of it is so limited.

“Visible mourning reminds us of death, which is construed as unnatural, a failure to manage the situation…A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty…But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.”

Joan Didion offers a peephole into this foreign world.

This book is sensitive, grounded in the real life experience of a woman grieving. Through raw eyes, looking in dismay at her new life, to which she is now bound, the reader can, if only vicariously, come to glimpse the experience of loss.

x Julie

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  1. Claude says:

    I just finished reading the play version of A Year of Magical Thinking and it was very powerful and moving.

  2. Julie says:

    I was listening to a podcast called ‘Meet the Writers’ by Barnes and Noble. Joan Didion was on the show and I was so surprised at how young her voice sounds. She’s over 70. She was saying that after John’s death she was writing to process her experience, writing came naturally to her. Then, from these notes, she found herself thinking about how to structure it and that’s how it ended up being a book. She said it was very useful to help her try to figure out what had happened.