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The Year of Magical Thinking [Paperback]

Joan Didion
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

4 Sep 2006

From one of America's iconic writers, 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. 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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (4 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007216858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007216857
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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‘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, Independent

‘Ultimately, and unexpectedly for a book about illness and death, this is a wonderfully life affirming book.’ Lisa O’Kelly, Observer

‘Searing, informative and affecting. Don’t leave life without it.’ Financial Times

‘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

‘Taking the reader to places where they would not otherwise go is one of the things a really good book can do. “The Year of Magical Thinking” does just that, and brilliantly. Powerful, moving and true.’ Cressida Connolly, Spectator

‘A great book, a great work. Angular, exact, pressured and tough, precise as a diamond drill bit.’ Nick Laird

From the Publisher

The cover design is a limited edition print (1 of 2000) by Bob Crowley.

Bob Crowley is an award-winning theatre director, scenic and costume designer. He has worked extensively on Broadway and at The Royal National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK. He was the designer for the stage adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant 11 Sep 2006
This small book packs an enormous emotional punch. During the year of the title, not only does Didion have to come to terms with her grief over her husband's sudden death but she has to see her daughter through harrowing - and seemingly unexplainable - medical emergencies, including brain surgery. If this were fiction, you wouldn't believe it. Didion's straightforward and elegant writing gives the reader the space to contemplate their own feelings towards grief and this book will ring true with anyone who has lost anyone close. A truly exceptional book.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent 3 Jun 2006
From the moment one picks up this poignant memoir one passes into a world slightly softer, slightly muted, and slightly off track from the every day. The very tone of Didion's prose conveys the muffled sensibility she must have been experiencing the entire first year after her beloved husband's sudden death from cardiac failure. It's a magnificent work, done with stellar craftsmanship. Didion manages to explore her grief, and the people and events surrounding it, via methods that are neither whiny nor self-indulgent, but which border on the fantastic and which are ultimately instructive. John surely is beaming at her from his current dimension.

Her introspection is extremely clinical in its self appraisal and criticism. She acknowledges madness, horror, confusion, and every other emotion on the roller-coaster of acute grief. Like many of us, when she experiences a gap in understanding she turns to books, the ultimate givers of wisdom. When these betray her by failing to illuminate, she turns to logic and, finally, to observation.

This Buddhist like observation is mesmerizing. Readers cannot help but relate their own life experiences to Didion's struggle to make sense out of the insensibility of death, and be comforted.

Every physical detail of this book is strategic, and I loved discovering each of these tangible tributes. From the dust cover, lettered in black and blue (red and gold in the UK), with the blue spelling out `John', to the back cover photo with John and Quintana regarding the photographer while Joan focuses her gaze on them, to the author photo on the back flap, depicting a pale elegant woman clearly changed by harsh events, the entire effort is beautifully complete.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful meditation on loss 7 Sep 2011
"You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."

This book has simple sentences like this scattered through it. They're things you know, but forget. Your loved ones will die, so make the most of the time you have. I suppose I don't like to look at members of my family and think about them dying, so I push the thought away. Reading this book, I was unable to push anything away. I will die one day, and so will everyone I know. A simple thought, and not necessarily a depressing one if instead of getting immobilised by preemptive grief I decide to take action, to show people that I love and appreciate them, to call them more, to spend more time with them, to forget the little grudges and niggles that really don't matter.

Joan Didion's loss is twofold - first her daughter goes into intensive care on Christmas morning, and then just before New Year's Eve her husband dies instantly of a massive heart attack. The book explores the process of grieving, which starts with numbness, and moves through denial and magical thinking (imagining John is still alive, and that she can't throw out his shoes because he'll need them when he comes back). Only later does she really start to understand that he's dead and to grieve for him.

The book is full of beautiful sentences and painful observations. She avoids places she went with John, but finds even the loosest connections taking her back down into the vortex, thinking of him and their times together and being unable to function in the real world. The narrative flits back and forth between past and present just as her thoughts must have done throughout that year.

And then, at the end, she realises that a year has passed.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By R. A. Davison TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book for me was a first. I read it and when I had finished I had utterly no idea how on earth to review it, because of the juxtaposition between the sensitive subject matter and my reaction to it. I had a sense that in criticising this book in any way, I was somehow a bad person, but as a review, I still have to be honest about what I thought of it.

The book is Didion's account of the first year following her husbands death, after he suffers a heart attack at home the day before New Years Eve. Throughout the following year their daughter Quintana suffers several episodes of ill health, and in fact also died shortly before the books' publication, though Didion chose not to update her manuscript to reflect this.

Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne were both writers and so I guess I expected something special here, I at least expected her thinking to be magical given the title, her words on the experience of grief to be moving and perhaps inspiring. But...........

It's cold. The whole book, it's very remote and detached. It's short, and repetitive, filled with quotes from other people's work on the nature of grief and lines from other people's poems, which if removed would leave only anecdotes that would be of interest to family members and the same stories repeated more than once.
It is like a collection of jumbled extracts from a diary, there is no cohesive narrative, and it is not what I expected: an insightful poetic reflection on the nature of death and loss, more a list of facts, an essay. It is much more essay than memoir.

It feels terrible to say that a book by a woman about the death of her husband is a bad book, but it is, and she even comes across badly as a person, showing off her contacts and lifestyle.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The most wonderful read for anyone who has suffered a Great loss of...
I have read many books about bereavement these last 2 years none which I connected with.All I can say is even though my circumstances were different to Joan's I connected with... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kim
1.0 out of 5 stars Overrated
I came to this book not knowing what to expect, i.e. I had not read anything by Didion before, but was attracted to it merely by the fact that my father had recently died in a... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Charlotte
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome, awesome, awesome
This is one of those books that I end up underlining passages in! She is such a great writer. Read it. Just read it!!!
Published 3 months ago by LaraMascaraNYC
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Compulsive listening, extremely well read and full of deep insight into bereavement, grief, coping
and responses., I would highly recommend.
Published 5 months ago by FIONA WILLIAMS
2.0 out of 5 stars Glad I read it; but disappointed.
I really wanted to like this book and was looking forward to reading it.

However, it did not fulfil my reasons for reading it. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Scoobytooby
2.0 out of 5 stars Rambling and self important
Sorry as I am about the death of Joan Didion's husband and the illness of her daughter I did not see that her experience was in any way special or her thinking was illuminative or... Read more
Published 6 months ago by meg keir
2.0 out of 5 stars Raw and Emotional
This is the book that Didon wrote after the very sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, at home over dinner. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
5.0 out of 5 stars changes the rest of your life
This is a magical book. It weaves spells to overcome confusion, loss and despair. Joan Didion can find the ingredients with which to conjure up value to attach to grief and hope to... Read more
Published 7 months ago by M
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
A very reflective read, a great story from a very brave lady. Arrived when it said it would in good condition.
Published 8 months ago by Mrs J Trezise
3.0 out of 5 stars The Need to be Considered Sane
I found `A Year of Magical Thinking' disappointing. It is beautifully written of course but I didn't find its restraint a virtue. I found it cowardly. Read more
Published 9 months ago by I. Losada
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