The Year of Magical Thinking, Paperback

The Year of Magical Thinking Paperback

4 out of 5 (3 ratings)


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.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Autobiography: general
  • ISBN: 9780007216857



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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

one day you will lose some one you love, you may have already. Each of us will deal with it differently yet the same. The same because we can mark our progress and failures according to the Kübler-Ross grief cycle, the details of which are set out below.Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad newsDenial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitableAnger stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-upBargaining stage: Seeking in vain for a way outDepression stage: Final realization of the inevitableAcceptance stage: Finally finding the way forwardDifferently because each grief is the history of the life lost and left. Joan Didion is a famous American journalist, essayist, and novelist. Her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, was published October 4, 2005. The book-length essay chronicles the year following her husband's death, during which Didion's daughter, Quintana, was also gravely ill. The book is both a vivid personal account of losing a partner after 40 years of professional collaboration and marriage, and a broader attempt to describe the mechanism that governs grief and mourning.It is clear that she moves in top social circles from her life style, which naturally goes by unremarked. The prose is clear and simple, and is best described as personal reportage, and hints rather then shouts the underlying pain of trying to make sense of how/why her husband died. It is intellectually brilliant yet emotionally cold. For a very different account of a writer dealing with grief read Blake Morrison, And when Did You Last See Your Father? Its revealing to me that she had loathed Dylan’s Thomas widow, Caitlin, highly emotional book, Leftover Life to Kill .What I am about to say is not a spoiler as her daughter health is not used to build up to a point of hope in the account. But if true then it illustrates that Joan may still be stuck in grief or in writing this book moved on. Quintana seemed to be getting better during the period the book covers, she died of complications from acute pancreatitis on August 26, 2005, in New York City at age 39 after an extended period of illness. The New York Times reported that Didion would not change the book to reflect her daughter's death. "It's finished," she said.Would I recommend it? I hesitate because the account reveals a brilliant, strong woman who is able to do what she does best and write about circumstances that would floor many of us. You finish the last page respecting but not loving her. Don’t read it if you want a cosy cry, but if you look at Death with pride and stand tall she is your woman. “You may have enemies whom you hate, but not enemies whom you despise. You must be of your enemy: then the success of your enemy shall be your success too.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Review by

Death and grief are the greatest taboos in western society and this book carefully deconstructs this taboo in moving and unself-indulgent prose. If you don't know the story, on the 30th December 2003, Joan Didion's and John Gregory Dunne's only child, Quintana, was desperately ill, possibly dying, in a New York hospital. Her parents spent the day with her at the hospital. Later that evening, as they sat down to dinner, John suffered a fatal heart attack. Although Quintana recovered from her illness, two months later, following a collapse, she underwent life saving brain surgery and in this book Joan Didion tries to make sense of these events. The result is an intensely moving and graceful meditation on all the emotions of grief, incredulity, anger, sadness, depression, etc. which is both personal and wise

Review by

Although I am not a fan of memoirs, I found Didion’s memoir of the first year after the loss of her husband both sad and illuminating. Sad, because, nine months ago, we lost my beloved father. I’ve had to watch my Mom grieve the end of one of life’s grand love affairs – the passionate love affair between my parents, which lasted nearly 60 years. Illuminating because, at times, Didion expresses her personal grieving in such a universal way that her loss became my Mother’s loss. Didion gave a voice to the process of grief that my Mom, a widow, is experiencing and which I, a still-married daughter, have not yet experienced. That Dunne brought deep meaning into Didion’s life is unquestionable; her struggle to control or somehow change the events of that year, at times, makes fascinating reading because one senses that her emotions, her sens of loss are deep so that if she touched on them, she probably wouldn't cope. But, while reading, I was struck by another level of sadness: at the hospital, which declared her husband dead, the social worker said of Didion’s reaction, “It’s okay; she’s a pretty cool customer.” I constantly found myself asking, where ARE her emotions? What IS she feeling? She could, and did, articulate the practical details of her year of grieving in microscopic detail, but there were times when I found her determined and strong-willed focus on medical facts, and the logistics of Dunne’s death and her daughter’s illness, disconcerting. Understandable, yes, and sad because it suggested a desperate attempt at mastering her overwhelming loss, but still disconcerting. She is, as the social worker said, “a pretty cool customer,” and she manages to keep her deepest emotions very private. The title of the book explains a lot: THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. “Magical” to me has a wondrous, positive connotation; the word implies exciting events that take the ordinary and somehow transform them into the extraordinary. I only understood how Didion could apply it to the year following the death of her husband, a year in which her only child lay dying, when I looked up the meaning in the dictionary for this review.Rather than the magic in her title meaning ‘an enchanting quality or phenomenon’ or ‘wonderful, exciting,’ the MAGICAL in Didion’s title relies more on the definition of “magic” as ‘the supposed art of influencing the course of events by the occult control of nature or of the spirits.’Because, to me, that’s where the sadness in this book really lies: Didion’s desperate desire to influence, to change by some power she didn’t have, the death of her husband. And, even when, she couldn’t “bring him back,” she still had to go through the process of accepting that death is a part of life. That no matter how privileged, or intelligent, or talented, or lucky one is, no matter how many famous names one can drop, death comes to us all: “Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust.” (Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act IV, Sc ii)For Didion, there was no magic in her year of grieving. No amount of intellectualising her grief could change that ordinary moment when, at the dinner table, her beloved husband died. He was gone and, to resume her life, she had to “relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead” and move into a future beyond grief and beyond mourning.

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