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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking

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Sue Baker's view...

How badly we as a society deal with death is most poignantly outlined in Joan Didion’s memoir recalling the year following the sudden death of her much loved husband. How little we acknowledge the tearing grief, the “magical thinking” that will conjure a loved-one’s return, the depression and the sense of the deepest loss that the bereaved must cope with. The sparseness of the writing, the unflinching analysis of her state of mind is a moving testament to her life with John Gregory Dunne.

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After You: Letters of Love, and Loss, to a Husband and Father, Natascha McElhone

A "Piece of Passion" from the publisher...

On the evening of 30 December 2003, Joan Didion and her husband John Gregrory Dunne were talking over supper when he slumped in his chair, dying so suddenly that his wife mistook the event for a joke. In the months that followed there was no order or plan or structure to this extraordinary book beyond the author typing whatever came into her mind. This was not a book Joan Didion ever intended to write and as a result what we have is a true and profound description of grief – but more importantly a life-affirming testament to the enduring quality of the human spirit. The reader is elevated by Didion’s book: we will all at some stage experience loss of this kind and we can survive.

Who is Sue Baker


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

From one of America's iconic writers, this is a portrait of a marriage and a life - in good times and bad - that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child. This is a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill.

At first they thought it was flu, then pneumonia, then complete sceptic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later - the night before New Year's Eve - the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John suffered a massive and fatal coronary.

In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of 40 years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LA airport, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Centre to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion's 'attempt to make sense of the weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness, about marriage and children and memory, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself'. The result is an exploration of an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad.


‘This is a beautiful and devastating book by one of the finest writers we have. Didion has always been a precise, humane and meticulously truthful writer, but on the subject of death she becomes essential’ Zadie Smith

‘It is the most awesome performance of both participating in, and watching, an event. Even though Didion does not allow herself to break down, only a terribly controlled reader will resist doing the same’ John Freeman

‘Joan Didion has produced, with desperate honesty, a book about loss and grief … It is astonishing to find a great subject, in all its sorrow, meeting its match in one of the true talents of our age’ Colm Toibin

‘The Year of Magical Thinking is in fact a year of lucid and rational thinking, about grief and mourning and feared loss; this account of a husband’s death and daughter’s grave illness is the more moving for not trying to be’ Julian Barnes

‘A masterpiece … dense with sentiment, without ever being sentimental, tough witty, broken, tender and flawlessly sustained’ Adam Thirlwell

About the Author

Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of non-fiction: Where I Was From, Political Fictions, The Last Thing He Wanted, After Henry, Miami, Democracy, Salvador, The White Album, A Book of Common Prayer, Play It as It Lays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and Run River.

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Book Info

Publication date

4th September 2006


Joan Didion

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Harpercollins Publishers


240 pages


Biography / Autobiography
eBook Favourites

Autobiography: literary



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