The Year of Magical Thinking

I’ve just finished reading The Year of Magical Thinking. It’s a powerful piece. It’s both elegantly crafted at points, but at others clearly very raw, and none the less powerful. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a rewarding one.

Didion is writing in the aftermath of the death of her husband of many years. At the same time, before she even has time to begin grieving, she begins to care for her daughter, hospitalised with a life-threatening illness.

The book is simultaneously a small part of Didion’s grieving, capturing her experience of it, but also a reflection on it. She draws on the medical literature, classical references and contemporary culture to try and cast light on her own experience, but that is what draws her back, what drives her – her struggle to deal with a fundamental, catastrophic rendering of her world.

Thinking on it, I think this is perhaps the closest thing to a narrative quest in the novel – can a human being (Didion) survive the grief and loss of a partner of forty years? This isn’t a book that’s riven with narrative in the conventional sense (cliffhangers and the like), but it is a powerful one, and it has a conclusion that I found to some degree satisfying.

Satisfying as well, I suppose, because I think it gave a real answer; it didn’t shy away from the experience, or seek false comfort in platitudes. It recognised and respected the experience for what it was, which means the answer feels … more authentic, if no more comforting for that.

Grief, I think, is a more primal thing thing than we really think of it as; from the little I understand it seems visceral, biological, innate. This book conveys some of that, and for that reason it isn’t an easy read, but I think it’s worth reading.

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