Clear Thinking

Joan Didion – ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ (Vintage 2006)

What a breathtaking book. I have rarely read such a clear, honest and corrosive analysis of grief.

Didion wrote it after the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, at the dinner they were sharing at home at the end of a normal day together, one of many in their long and close marriage.

She is extraordinary – shirks nothing but at the same time indulges in nothing. Her book tracks back and forth in a fluid series of reflections over their life together, over their daughter’s simultaneous coma, over the precise medical details of what took place at that last fateful meal: searching all the time for the sense of it all.

‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ is a way of keeping her husband alive for herself, but also – finally – of accepting. ‘I think about swimming with him into the cave at Portuguese Bend, about the swell of clear water, the way it changed, the swiftness and power it gained as it narrowed through the rocks at the base of the point. The tide had to be just right…You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that.’

There is no magic, or deus ex machina. ‘No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.’


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