Blue Nights

Joan Didion

Blue Nights

In The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion wrote about the sudden death of her husband. In this book she explains what it's like to lose a child. Blue Nights opens on July 26, 2010, as Didion thinks back to her daughter Quintana’s wedding in New York seven years before. Today would be her wedding anniversary. This fact triggers vivid snapshots of Quintana’s childhood — in Malibu, in Brentwood, at school in Holmby Hills. Reflecting on her daughter but also on her role as a parent, Didion asks the candid questions any parent might about how she feels she failed either because cues were not taken or perhaps displaced. ‘How could I have missed what was clearly there to be seen?’ 3.4 out of 5 based on 16 reviews
Blue Nights

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Family & Lifestyle
Format Hardback
Pages 192
RRP £14.99
Date of Publication November 2011
ISBN 978-0007432899
Publisher Fourth Estate
 

In The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion wrote about the sudden death of her husband. In this book she explains what it's like to lose a child. Blue Nights opens on July 26, 2010, as Didion thinks back to her daughter Quintana’s wedding in New York seven years before. Today would be her wedding anniversary. This fact triggers vivid snapshots of Quintana’s childhood — in Malibu, in Brentwood, at school in Holmby Hills. Reflecting on her daughter but also on her role as a parent, Didion asks the candid questions any parent might about how she feels she failed either because cues were not taken or perhaps displaced. ‘How could I have missed what was clearly there to be seen?’

Reviews

The New York Review of Books

Cathleen Schine

What appears on the surface to be an elegantly, intelligently, deeply felt, precisely written story of the loss of a beloved child is actually an elegantly, intelligently, deeply felt, precisely written glimpse into the abyss, a book that forces us to understand, to admit, that there can be no preparation for tragedy, no protection from it, and so, finally, no consolation.

24/11/2011

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The London Review of Books

Mary-Kay Wilmers

Blue Nights, a more anxious, self-questioning book than The Year of Magical Thinking, is about fear, Didion’s and Quintana’s principally: fear of being abandoned, of time passing, of losing control, of dying; and about the memory of a time between the mid-1960s and the late 1980s when Didion and Dunne lived in California and Quintana was growing up; a charmed time when ‘there had been agapanthus, lilies of the Nile, intensely blue starbursts that floated on long stalks’; when children might develop a liking for caviar; and there were birthdays at which rafts of balloons were released to drift over Hollywood Hills; a time when fear was glossed over or unrecognised and Didion was a mother who wrote books...

03/11/2011

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The Economist

The Economist

This is a difficult book, but not a sentimental one. Ms Didion has a remarkable ability to consider her own feelings without letting her prose turn soggy with emotion … [She] has translated the sad hum of her thoughts into a profound meditation on mortality.

05/11/2011

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The New York Times

Michiko Kakutani

Heartbreaking … Whereas “Magical Thinking” was raw and jagged and immediate — the work of someone who prized order and control and found herself suddenly spinning into madness — “Blue Nights” is a more elliptical book: the work of a survivor trying to understand the daughter she has lost, even as she surveys the receding vistas of her own life, as age and illness and bereavement leave her feeling newly vulnerable and alone.

31/10/2011

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The New York Times

John Banville

“Blue Nights,” though as elegantly written as one would expect, is rawer than its predecessor, the “impenetrable polish” of former, better days now chipped and scratched ... The book will be another huge success, for reasons not mistaken but insufficient. Certainly as a testament of suffering nobly borne, which is what it will be generally taken for, it is exemplary. However, it is most profound, and most provocative, at another level, the level at which the author comes fully to realize, and to face squarely, the dismaying fact that against life’s worst onslaughts nothing avails, not even art; especially not art.

03/11/2011

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The New Statesman

Sophie Elmhirst

… this book is like nothing else Didion has written - not always a good thing. It lacks her clean and graceful style, a gaze that is sensitive and yet slightly removed. The writing is brutal, unsettling and frantic. Yet how else could she write such a book, in such a moment? The tone, a stripping away of artfulness, is deliberate. Its lack of polish lays bare an anguish that infects her every waking moment, leaving her haunted by the past.

07/11/2011

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The Daily Telegraph

Jane Shilling

This is not, technically, as finished a piece of writing as The Year of Magical Thinking. Like the gloamings of its title, it is vague, insubstantial, impressionistic, elusive. At times it reads more like an incantation than the crystalline self-examination of its predecessor. Yet for all its tremulousness it has an indomitable quality: a steely willingness to recollect past happiness in present adversity — the deepest of all sorrows, according to Dante — which it is impossible not to admire.

14/11/2011

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The Times

Janice Turner

For once in her writing there is little scholarship or literary reference: in this cruellest of afflictions, the loss of a child, knowledge affords no comfort. Only the memories abide.

05/11/2011

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The Literary Review

Jane Thynne

It’s terribly sad. Do not look here for brave messages on coping with bereavement. Didion’s pain is far too raw.

01/11/2011

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The Evening Standard

Katie Law

Didion comes over as neither likeable nor cosy, but rather self-centred and preoccupied with her own writing. She was perhaps a more loving wife than mother, since Quintana Roo remains a shadowy presence. Yet Didion's prose and her imagery of her own blue nights beckoning, however fearful they may be, make for compelling reading.

10/11/2011

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The Financial Times

Rahul Jacob

Blue Nights is searingly honest about the extended nightmare of losing a child, but also uneven. There is a staccato quality to some of the writing, and a chapter mostly about how children today are mollycoddled seemed out of place. Didion somehow summoned the detachment she is renowned for in The Year of Magical Thinking. To expect her to pull off a masterpiece twice is to ask too much.

04/11/2011

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The Mail on Sunday

Craig Brown

What greater grief can there be for mortals to see their children dead? asked Euripides. Didion quotes this, and intends Blue Nights to be a prolonged exploration of its meaning and its undeniable truth. But although her grief is all-consuming, her book lacks the transcendent clarity and beauty of its predecessor. Or perhaps its relative failure is because her grief is all-consuming: it may be that her grief is so great that it has consumed even her most resilient qualities as a writer: her judgment, her clarity, her lack of self-pity.

30/10/2011

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The Observer

Julie Myerson

... a very odd book, full of fury and fragility and yet somehow anaemic. In fact, Didion's heartfelt declaration that "there is no day in her life on which I do not see her" serves only to remind you of Quintana's essential absence. Because we, the readers, do not ever really "see" this girl. Even the passages where she might have come to life are rendered needlessly brittle by Didion's stabbing, birdlike prose ... Where the book is most successful — and most poignant — is in the viciously honest picture Didion draws of a lonely, encroaching old age.

23/10/2011

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The Sunday Times

Daisy Goodwin

[An] elusive memoir, which manages to be both intimate and aloof (you wouldn’t know how Quintana became ill unless you had read the earlier book). We are given sudden vivid glimpses of Quintana, but no facts, no humdrum biography. Didion reaches no conclusions, has no epiphany, and leaves out as much as she reveals. Her prose is a thing of beauty, but the book itself is as evanescent as the eponymous blue nights.

23/10/2011

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The Guardian

Rachel Cusk

She struggles to revive the form and style of her earlier book, to make it live again; she repeats anecdotes, and often sentences, word for word; she creates repeating prose patterns whose effect, in the end, is to confer the author's own numbness on the reader. What she cannot do is master her own material: instead of grieving with her, we are watching her grieve. This is a piteous and exposing process, and one which places a moral burden on the reader. And it is here that Didion's lack of humility comes back to haunt her, for by burdening the reader she is also making herself vulnerable to judgment.

12/11/2011

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The Spectator

Susan Hill

... I wanted Quintana to be brought alive in her mother’s words. That would have been her memorial. This disjointed, painful, author-centred book is not. Did Didion ever mean it to be? Was she always writing about herself, not about Quintana? Well, what she wrote is what we have, and we must accept that. But it is legitimate to criticise the section which deals with the tragic death of Natasha Richardson ... the account of Natasha’s death in this book, which is meant to be about Quintana, jars, and seems to have no place, though it had a place for Didion. That’s the problem, somehow.

12/11/2011

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