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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 ...

Deity with Fairy Wings

Emily Witt: Girlhood, 8 September 2016

The Girls 
by Emma Cline.
Chatto, 355 pp., £12.99, June 2016, 978 1 78474 044 3
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... like, an endless, formless summer,’ Evie muses in the first chapter. Maybe I’ve just read Joan Didion too many times but this reads as a hair’s breadth away from parody, down to the subsequent mention of jasmine. Or maybe I just felt trapped in the echo chamber of the originary text of girlhood, The Bell Jar: ‘It was a queer sultry ...

At the Pool

Inigo Thomas, 21 June 2018

... is water, made available and useful, and is, as such, infinitely soothing to the Western eye,’ Joan Didion said. She was writing about California, where pools, in her view, were less a symbol of affluence than of order – ‘control over the uncontrollable’. The history of California is to a considerable extent about the mastery of water in desert ...


Mike Davis: California Burns, 15 November 2007

... also offer lazy journalists the opportunity to recite those famous lines from Raymond Chandler and Joan Didion, in which the Santa Anas drive the natives to homicide and apocalyptic fever. But just as one shouldn’t read Daphne du Maurier to understand the workings of nature in Cornwall, one shouldn’t read Chandler to fathom the phenomenology of ...

Attending Poppy

Christopher Tayler: David Grand, 9 December 1999

by David Grand.
Quartet, 255 pp., £10, April 1999, 9780704381155
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... and emblematic Americana. In her 1967 essay about Hughes, ‘7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38’, Joan Didion attributed the fascination Hughes exerted to a return of the repressed: for ‘a nation which increasingly appears to prize social virtues’, Hughes is ‘the antithesis of all our official heroes’. David Grand’s first novel Louse sees ...

The Reviewer’s Song

Andrew O’Hagan: Mailer’s Last Punch, 7 November 2013

Norman Mailer: A Double Life 
by J. Michael Lennon.
Simon and Schuster, 947 pp., £30, November 2013, 978 1 84737 672 5
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... like an oven and half the old-timers were falling asleep as I came in. I saw that Jean Stein and Joan Didion were deep in a conversation that could only be private, so I went over to the bar and had a whisky before approaching them. Joan Didion gave me her hand and she was so thin it felt like I was holding a ...


Frank Kermode, 24 July 1986

The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 208 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 224 02385 3
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... Burroughs fares no better: most of what he writes is ‘trash, and lazily obsessive trash, too’. Joan Didion is suitably seared. Brian de Palma, the light-fingered flash trash movie brute who can’t even walk properly, is asked by the interviewer to explain ‘why his films make no sense’, not a sequitur in sight. Neither do Hitchcock’s, says the ...

‘Double y’im dees’

Christopher Tayler: Ben Fountain, 2 August 2012

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk 
by Ben Fountain.
Canongate, 307 pp., £16.99, July 2012, 978 0 85786 438 3
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... long apprenticeship is that his 1970s-vintage literary models – among them Robert Stone, Joan Didion and Norman Mailer in Vietnam-era reportage mode – turned out to be pretty useful for a writer hitting his stride at the start of the 21st century. His main adjustments concern mood. For the pill-popping nerviness of ...


Peter Robb, 6 March 1997

by Janette Turner Hospital.
Virago, 400 pp., £14.99, September 1996, 1 86049 123 5
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... It reads like an awful lot of other novels, the award-winning kind, of the last decade or so. Joan Didion floats into view – her manner, if not her anorexic vigour. Roasted people are a substantial novelty in Turner Hospital’s writing. Ouster bears the marks of a radical discontent, a resolve to break out of the writers’ workshop ghetto, to cut ...


Andy Beckett: Dennis Cooper’s short novel, 21 May 1998

by Dennis Cooper.
Serpent’s Tail, 176 pp., £8.99, March 1998, 1 85242 586 5
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... these attributes. Luke’s reply to any request is always: ‘Whatever.’ Cooper has learnt from Joan Didion, the great flat-toned chronicler of California, that there is menace in repetition and restriction, in leaving out. By dispensing with the palm trees and the traffic snarl and all the state’s surface noise and danger, he depicts a ...


Inigo Thomas: Michael Wolff’s Book Party, 8 February 2018

... someone they could talk to.Journalistically, what more could you wish for? ‘It was gold,’ as Joan Didion would say. The historian Taylor Branch visited Bill Clinton secretly at the White House once a month in the 1990s. On his first visit, in the spring of 1993, maxims and epigrams were flying about the place. Bill was quoting Suetonius, Hillary ...

A Poke of Sweeties

Andrew O’Hagan: Neal Ascherson’s Magnificent Novel, 30 November 2017

The Death of the ‘Fronsac’ 
by Neal Ascherson.
Apollo, 393 pp., £18.99, August 2017, 978 1 78669 437 9
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... good novels unless they already have some bend in their imagination, as did Hemingway, Orwell and Joan Didion, towards self-excavation. The urge may hide itself, but you can see it in their language: the words don’t just arrive; they are bred in the bone and the actions they perform are specific to that writer. This is what we call style, and ...


Emily Witt: Online Dating, 25 October 2012

... static. At the same time big cities have a way of shrinking. In her essay about leaving New York Joan Didion tells a man she’ll take him to a party where he might meet some ‘new faces’, and he laughs at her. ‘It seemed that the last time he had gone to a party where he had been promised “new faces”, there had been 15 people in the room, and ...


Hilary Mantel, 7 December 1989

Life Lines: Politics and Health 1986-1988 
by Edwina Currie.
Sidgwick, 291 pp., £13.95, November 1989, 0 283 99920 9
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My Turn 
by Nancy Reagan and William Novak.
Weidenfeld, 384 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 297 79677 1
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Heiress: The Story of Christina Onassis 
by Nigel Dempster.
Weidenfeld, 180 pp., £12.95, October 1989, 0 297 79671 2
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... she tells us, ‘I had a higher disapproval rating than any first lady of modern times.’ Joan Didion called her smile ‘a study in frozen insincerity’. Gloria Steinem called her ‘the marzipan wife’. The Chicago Tribune berated her in terms that could be applied, mutatis mutandis, to the present Princess of Wales or to Marie ...

Capital W, Capital W

Michael Wood: Women writers, 19 August 1999

Women Writers at Work 
edited by George Plimpton.
Harvill, 381 pp., £9.99, February 1999, 1 86046 586 2
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Just as I Thought 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 332 pp., £8.99, August 1999, 1 86049 696 2
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... looks. Being a woman writer is only partly a matter of how any writing woman subjectively feels. Joan Didion, interviewed in 1977, wittily evokes the ‘social tradition’ of male writers: Hard drinkers, bad livers. Wives, wars, big fish, Africa, Paris, no second acts. A man who wrote novels had a role in the world, and he could play that role and do ...

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