The Year of Magical Thinking is a beautifully crafted piece of non-fiction by Joan Didion. Didion’s life was turned upside down in 2003, when her husband died and her daughter became critically ill. In this book Didion gladly invites us into her life as she tries to come to terms with her husband, John Gregory Dunne’s death. The book brings us to the year anniversary of his death and we share the highs and lows of her journey until then. This is an honest and rich account of Didion’s feelings and thoughts after the death of her husband; a story where the reader can feel only sympathy for the author. It is a book which touched my heart and gave me a choking feeling in my throat as she confessed all in her delicate, eloquent yet simple tone. This is a heartfelt story about the journey of life and death, a story which I couldn’t leave down. In fact I read it in a day.
In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion explores the theme of death as she comes to terms with the death of her husband. The reoccurring italicised sentences throughout this book sums death up in a few words. ‘Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and then –gone.’ This is the exact account of how her husband died but also an image that shows the immediacy of death. One moment the person you love the most in the world is alive and the next minute they are gone forever. There is no way of retrieving them nor is there a way of talking to them. This is what Didion struggles with the most. Her year of magical thinking is the year directly after the death of her husband where she convinces herself he will come back to her and walk through their front door once more.
In this book, Didion opens her heart to us.We take this journey with her; this is not just a story, it is real life and though it is daunting we feel like we are accompanying her as she goes through the grieving process, from denial to acceptance, self-pity to anger. She invites us into her world sharing memorable stories of the times her and her husband made together, the lifestyle they lived; how they spent their days together, the different places they settled, the restaurants they dined in, the friends they entertained and fond times spent with their daughter, Quintana, whom they both loved dearly.
During the same year her husband died, Didion’s daughter fell ill. Without her husband there to comfort her she is faced with a terrifying scenario. Will her daughter die too? Her character emerges in this book, we see her personality, a strong women and a perfectionist. She must know every detail of her daughter’s illness and her husband’s death but for Didion some questions remain unsolved.
Undoubtedly, this is a sad book but with it brings moments of happiness. The love for her husband is imminent throughout and though she is mourning his death, she is also celebrating their life together. Fond memories arise, warm words are spoken, and though her sense of her loss is prevalent her sense of love for her husband is what is strongest.
Next week Lady Ardour will be reviewing Regeneration by Pat Barker.