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Believing in gringos

Neal Ascherson, 19 May 1983

Salvador 
by Joan Didion.
Chatto, 108 pp., £6.99, April 1983, 0 7011 3912 9
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... indeed for a destabilisation. And the whole Central American isthmus will be returned to – what? Joan Didion 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 that the misery and savagery of Central America will ...

Joan Didion’s Style

Martin Amis, 7 February 1980

The White Album 
by Joan Didion.
Weidenfeld, 223 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 297 77702 5
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... Joan Didion 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 of five, where kids in High Kindergarten are given LSD and peyote by their parents, where young hustlers get lethally carried away while rolling elderly film-stars, where six-foot-two drag queens shop for fishnet bikinis, where a 26-year-old woman can consign her five-year-old daughter to the centre divider of Interstate 5: when her fingers were prised loose from the fence 12 hours later, the child pointed out that she had run after the car containing her family for ‘a long time ...

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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... rather its mode of reasoning. The premises are wild, but the logic is irresistible. This is what Joan Didion 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 outcome’. She also calls it ‘disordered ...

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 Joan Didion 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 essays were published now, the hagiography says to itself at three in the morning, they would meet with a different reception? But surely if she wrote today, her ideas about feminism would be more in line with ours? But surely, for all her pointillism, she is failing to draw the conclusions we would most like to see? The hagiography turns the pillow over, looking for a cool spot ...

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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... I began this feuilleton in a hotel room, the Hyatt Regency in Houston, Texas: a Didionesque 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.) Joan Didion has often noted transiency’s allure, a writer’s necessary alienation from fixed address ...

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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... of that great trek westwards was perfect – art direction usually is. And now here comes Joan Didion, 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 Joan Didion’s books ...

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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... meant kindly.’ It is so scrupulously disarming an intro that it is bound to put people who like Joan Didion 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 these qualities: it is an added irony that, since the ...

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. Joan Didion’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 weight ...

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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... to 1975), Elizabeth Hardwick’s friend Mary McCarthy, and the Californian novelist and essayist Joan Didion. 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 last essay in Bartleby in Manhattan is an attack on ...

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, Joan Didion, 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 leverage of their political insight ...

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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Miami 
by Joan Didion.
Simon and Schuster, 224 pp., $17.95, October 1987, 0 671 64664 8
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... to Havana. There have been no less than five recent books on Miami, of which those by Rieff and Joan Didion,* 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 because the drug and intelligence traffic has found ...

Styling

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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... it so heatedly. It’s instructive to compare-and-contrast Ozick’s approach with that of Joan Didion. 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 never stop noticing ...

Stories of Black and White

Michael Wood, 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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Democracy 
by Joan Didion.
Chatto, 234 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 7011 2890 9
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... only the shadow of an old puzzle? This is the dilemma that confronts narrator and characters in Joan Didion’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; a conspiracy of ...

At the Whitney

Hal Foster: Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood Sublime, 2 September 2004

... there is a hint of catastrophe, a sick glow beyond the usual smog, a touch of Nathanael West or Joan Didion. 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 ...

Dangerous Girls

Dale Peck, 3 July 1997

American Pastoral 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 423 pp., £15.99, June 1997, 0 224 05000 1
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... thinking here of the obfuscation of the Victorians, especially James; of the essays and novels of Joan Didion, 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 the reader will sit down at table with his own salt ...

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