On 30th December 2003, Joan Didon’s husband John sat down to dinner, had a massive heart attack and died. This book is Didon’s account of the year that followed - which she dubbed the year of magical thinking, because she spent the year thinking that John might return; for example, she refused to throw away his shoes, because she thought he would need them if he came back.
Just five days before her husband died – in fact on Christmas Day – John and Joan’s daughter Quintana was admitted to hospital severely ill with pneumonia, and it was not known whether she would live or die (in fact, she spent much of the following year in hospital).
Didion talks about her process of grieving, from the initial stage of denial, through stages of anger, and finally to a stage where she accepts that he is dead and will not be coming back. She talks about how she avoids going to places where she went with John, as she tries to run away from happy memories which now make her sad, but how certain things will often and unexpectedly remind her of something John said to her, or somewhere they went, and she feels herself being pulled down into the vortex again.
I thought the writing was very eloquent, and although there are a number of technical medical terms which I did not necessarily understand – when she discusses the causes of John’s heart problems, which were known about before his heart attack, and also when she talks about their daughter’s condition – this did not mar the flow of the words. some of the lines Didion uses are beautiful, and she certainly managed to put across how she was feeling.
However, as talented a writer as the author clearly is, I never really felt able to connect with her feelings on any level. I sometimes felt that I just didn’t want to pick the book up, but that wasn’t because I felt empathetic towards the author, but rather because I knew that such sad subject matter might reflect upon my own mood. (After finishing it, I longed for something light hearted or escapist to read.)
Overall though I’m glad I read this book, and probably would, cautiously, recommend it.