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His Shoes

Michael Wood: Joan Didion

5 January 2006
The Year of Magical Thinking 
by Joan Didion.
Fourth Estate, 227 pp., £12.99, October 2005, 9780007216840
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... Grief has its reasons, or rather its mode of reasoning. The premises are wild, but the logic is irresistible. This is what JoanDidion means when she writes, in her title and on the page, of ‘magical thinking’: ‘thinking as small children think, as if my thoughts or wishes had the power to reverse the narrative, change the ...

It was gold

Patricia Lockwood: Joan Didion’s Pointillism

4 January 2018
Joan DidionThe Centre Will Not Hold 
directed by Griffin Dunne.
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South and West: From a Notebook 
by Joan Didion.
Fourth Estate, 160 pp., £10, September 2017, 978 0 00 825717 0
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... The first thoughts​ about JoanDidion are not reasonable. The present literature about her is a hagiography that does not entirely trust itself; there is a vacancy at the centre of it that I call the ‘but surely’. But surely if these ...

The Pink Hotel

Wayne Koestenbaum

3 April 1997
The Last Thing He Wanted 
by Joan Didion.
Flamingo, 227 pp., £15.99, January 1997, 0 00 224080 7
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... locale. (Caryl Phillips once told me that he liked to write his books in faraway hotel rooms. I admire that. It brings to mind Janet Flanner at the Ritz and James Schuyler at the Chelsea.) JoanDidion has often noted transiency’s allure, a writer’s necessary alienation from fixed address. My favourite Didion passage of all time, from The White Album, typifies what I will call ‘hotel prose ...

What does a snake know, or intend?

David Thomson: Where Joan Didion​ was from

18 March 2004
Where I Was From 
by Joan Didion.
Flamingo, 240 pp., £14.99, March 2004, 0 00 717886 7
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... dun, to the biblical meadows, the pretty colours and the plenty that will be California. The art direction of that great trek westwards was perfect – art direction usually is. And now here comes JoanDidion, a little bit like the doomsayer on the wagon train (Walter Brennan, with teeth), but too arresting to be ignored, to tell us the prospectus, like the prospect, was a hoax. None of JoanDidion ...
19 May 1983
by Joan Didion.
Chatto, 108 pp., £6.99, April 1983, 0 7011 3912 9
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... wing colleagues. Deprived of Nicaraguan support, the new Salvadoran regime will be very easy meat indeed for a destabilisation. And the whole Central American isthmus will be returned to – what? JoanDidion can tell us what, because she has visited a Salvadoran present which is also the future: neither the ‘front yard’ theory nor the new ‘grand design’ can do anything more than ensure ...
7 February 1980
The White Album 
by Joan Didion.
Weidenfeld, 223 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 297 77702 5
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... JoanDidion is the poet of the Great Californian Emptiness. She sings of a land where it is easier to Dial-A-Devotion than to buy a book, where the freeway sniper feels ‘real bad’ about picking off a family ...

Paley’s People

Angela Carter

17 April 1980
The Little Disturbances of Man 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 192 pp., £2.50, March 1980, 0 86068 127 0
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Enormous Changes at the Last Minute 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 208 pp., £1.95, May 1979, 0 86068 108 4
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... begins: ‘My husband gave me a broom one Christmas. This wasn’t right. No one can tell me it was meant kindly.’ It is so scrupulously disarming an intro that it is bound to put people who like JoanDidion very much on their guard. And it is alarmingly easy to fall into the language of the Martini ad when writing about Grace Paley – wry, dry tender, ironic etc. The snag is, her work has all ...

What if you hadn’t been home

Mary-Kay Wilmers: Joan Didion

3 November 2011
Blue Nights 
by Joan Didion.
Fourth Estate, 188 pp., £14.99, November 2011, 978 0 00 743289 9
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... This is how it begins: July 26 2010. Today would be her wedding anniversary. JoanDidion’s daughter, Quintana Roo, was married at the Cathedral of St John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue in New York in 2003. Dates are important. In a writer as fastidious as Didion they carry a lot of ...

Miami Twice

Edward Said

10 December 1987
Going to Miami: Exiles, Tourists and Refugees in the New America 
by David Rieff.
Bloomsbury, 230 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 0 7475 0064 9
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by Joan Didion.
Simon and Schuster, 224 pp., $17.95, October 1987, 0 671 64664 8
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... capital for the Northeast, now – as David Rieff puts it in Going to Miami – a mirror city to Havana. There have been no less than five recent books on Miami, of which those by Rieff and JoanDidion,* quite different in tone and treatment, are the most prominent. Miami has also become crucial to the whole Central American drama, whether because it is where the Contras are headquartered, or ...


John Lanchester

21 October 1993
United States 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 1298 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 233 98832 7
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What Henry James Knew, and Other Essays on Writers 
by Cynthia Ozick.
Cape, 363 pp., £12.99, June 1993, 0 224 03329 8
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Sentimental Journeys 
by Joan Didion.
HarperCollins, 319 pp., £15, January 1993, 0 00 255146 2
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... course, only someone strongly tempted by the ‘famous lie’ of aesthetics would feel the need to denounce it so heatedly. It’s instructive to compare-and-contrast Ozick’s approach with that of JoanDidion. Ozick is intensely suspicious of the aesthetic, but her essays are all about writers; Didion floats past on a bubble of style – her style is the first thing you notice about her, and you ...

Firm Lines

Hermione Lee

17 November 1983
Bartleby in Manhattan, and Other Essays 
by Elizabeth Hardwick.
Weidenfeld, 292 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 297 78357 2
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... t only been a male preserve: witness the admirable Janet Flanner (New Yorker correspondent from 1925 to 1975), Elizabeth Hardwick’s friend Mary McCarthy, and the Californian novelist and essayist JoanDidion. There is really nothing to compare with it in England, unless one excepts Orwell (who rather resembles Wilson in his analyses of the Depression, of false language and of Kipling). Indeed, the ...
4 October 1984
In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women 
by Alice Walker.
Women’s Press, 138 pp., £7.50, September 1984, 0 7043 2852 6
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Nights at the Circus 
by Angela Carter.
Chatto, 295 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 7011 3932 3
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by Joan Didion.
Chatto, 234 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 7011 2890 9
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... soiled ... romance’ Carter finds so much energy in seems to us merely worn down, beaten thin, at best only the shadow of an old puzzle? This is the dilemma that confronts narrator and characters in JoanDidion’s Democracy, a novel whose title itself mimes the slippery problem. Democracy, in Didion’s work, is not a form of government but an item of rhetoric: what the world is to be made safe for ...

Ceaseless Anythings

James Wood: Robert Stone

1 October 1998
Damascus Gate 
by Robert Stone.
Picador, 500 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 37058 8
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... American realism, once a belief, is now an idle liberty. Writers such as Robert Stone, JoanDidion, John Irving and even Don DeLillo, are praised for their ‘realism’, for the solidity of their plots, the patience of their characterisation, the capillary spread of their social portraits, the ...

At the Whitney

Hal Foster: Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood Sublime

2 September 2004
... keyed-up sunsets contains the words ‘eternal amnesia’ in small print at the bottom), and sometimes there is a hint of catastrophe, a sick glow beyond the usual smog, a touch of Nathanael West or JoanDidion. Though he is a believer to the end, Ruscha suggests that Los Angeles might be a mirage and California a myth – a façade about to crumble into the desert, a set about to liquefy into the ...
3 July 1997
American Pastoral 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 423 pp., £15.99, June 1997, 0 224 05000 1
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... the page – and the knowledge about how life is lived which the reader brings to those words. I’m thinking here of the obfuscation of the Victorians, especially James; of the essays and novels of JoanDidion, which both forbid and implore the reader to bring his own version of the story to the events at hand; of the seemingly bland fare of Raymond Carver’s fiction, offered in full awareness that ...

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