My contribution to Nonfiction November
“I did not believe in the resurrection of the body but I still believed that given the right circumstances he would come back.”
Joan Didion is an author best known for her perceptive literary essays and memoirs, who has explored moral degeneration and cultural chaos in America through her writing since the 1960s. The Year of Magical Thinking is her frank account of the months following the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne. It is my book of choice for Nonfiction November.
On 30th December 2003, as he and his wife sat down to eat dinner in their New York apartment, 71-year-old Dunne suffered a sudden cardiac arrest from which he did not recover. For the previous five nights their adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, had been lying unconscious in intensive care, suffering from pneumonia and septic shock – they had just returned from visiting her in hospital.
Didion’s devastating book about loss tells the story from the moment of his collapse and her immediate response to the emergency, to her daily struggle to comprehend his death, her daughter’s continuing ill-health and her eventual, if reluctant, acceptance of his absence. Although she remains remarkably detached in this unflinching analysis, almost as if recounting events in another person’s life, her narrative of agonising personal loss and the nature of bereavement is tender and nostalgic without ever becoming mawkish.
Ultimately, this is the story of a woman learning to live with grief. She goes from being one half of the hottest literary couple in the USA; from being part of a supportive, gregarious, inseparable partnership of some forty years; to becoming an individual who must navigate social occasions and quotidian existence on her own.
The Year of Magical Thinking is a brave, raw, powerfully moving work, which speaks lucidly to anyone who has experienced the loss of a life companion.
NB Nonfiction November is an annual challenge to read, critique and discuss non-fiction books through the most autumnal of months. It is hosted by Rennie (What’s Nonfiction?), Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Julie (JulzReads) and Katie (Doing Dewey).