‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion: reviewed.

This brief meditation on bereavement and trauma is quite a moving piece of work. As a memoir of a successful writer, it underlines how a successful life does not guarantee happiness. For those who place great emphasis on success, this book is a cautionary story.

In some ways, the writer is paying tribute to her long marriage. But in detailing her difficulty in accepting the end of that marriage, she is exposing the limitations in having a life built around personal happiness. Happiness is not something which can be pursued effectively; it is elusive if sought. Didion struggles with self-pity, even being annoyed by a Lawrence poem which was not addressed to her. Furthermore, she shows no understanding of an unwell inhabitant of a hospital she visits. Grief, like neo-liberal capitalism, is an isolating thing. As Didion is the widow of a writer, perhaps she lost the support of a particularly empathetic individual.

However, the relative honesty, for honesty is always relative, of the narrative shines through the text. One might not be swept along in uncritical admiration for the writers in the book, but the reader can only feel compassion for everyone who mourns and feels cheated by life.


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