14/05/12
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Review – Blue Nights by Joan Didion

‘Several days before Christmas 2003, Joan Didion’s only daughter, Quintana, fell seriously ill. In 2010, Didion marked the sixth anniversary of her daughter’s death. Blue Nights is a shatteringly honest examination of Joan Didion’s life as a mother, a woman and a writer.’

It was with the expectation of infinite sadness I started Blue Nights. I don’t like biographies, at least of the living. Knowing so much, however biased, about someone leaves me arid. But I was compelled after reading Didion’s recounting of the year following the death of her husband, The Year of Magical Thinking, with its Spartan beauty, stark and essential pain, to read Blue Nights.

It was meant to be about the death of Didion’s daughter, Quintana Roo. It is about far more: mortality and memory, the life left behind and the life departed. Didion’s austere, incisive writing seems to ask how one can assess the life, let alone the death, of someone vital to your existence. What spaces are left vacant in their passing?

Death and mourning don’t make for happy reading, but when difficult and piercing subject matter is written about with such skill and honesty, it offers us a companionship and capacity for reflection that we can take with us when we ourselves are confronted with pain and loss.

How can I convince you that this is vital reading? This act of remembrance and re-visitation of experience, all reconsidered and weighed with a yearning, heartfelt intellectual struggle to understand, will tear and heal something in you.

Didion has created, through an evocation of memory, an aching, hopeful revocation of mortality. It is an incantation, beautiful and staggeringly complete, of a life. The wonder of it is that, in the end, I didn’t know whose: Didion’s or her daughter’s. They are inseparable.

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