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The First Person, Steroid-Enhanced

Hari Kunzru: Hunter S. Thompson

15 October 1998
The Rum Diary 
by Hunter S. Thompson.
Bloomsbury, 204 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 9780747541684
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The Proud Highway: The Fear and Loathing Letters. Vol. I 
by Hunter S. Thompson, edited by Douglas Brinkley.
Bloomsbury, 720 pp., £9.99, July 1998, 0 7475 3619 8
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... to write about his own terror and confusion as he drifted through the war zone, and it allowed Joan Didion, in The White Album, to weave details of her anxious upscale-Californian life into a startling account of the collapse of Sixties idealism. No one took the voice of the journalist further away from ‘neutral background’ (or seemed less able to ...

Deity with Fairy Wings

Emily Witt: Girlhood

7 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 ...


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 ...


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 ...

‘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 ...

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 ...


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 ...

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 ...


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 ...
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 ...


Michael André Bernstein: Norman Rush

22 January 2004
by Norman Rush.
Cape, 715 pp., £18.99, July 2003, 0 224 03709 9
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... of the global American imperium. Except for Jane and Paul Bowles in Morocco, only Robert Stone and Joan Didion suggest themselves, and neither of them is associated closely with any one setting. On the whole, American writers seem convinced that the vital features of their society are most clearly discernible at its centre, even though it is often on the ...


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 ...

Sheer Enthusiasm

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Zadie Smith

30 August 2018
Feel Free: Essays 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 464 pp., £20, February 2018, 978 0 241 14689 7
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... Several​ of the last century’s finest non-fiction writers – Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin – longed to be novelists. In interviews with the Paris Review, each touched on the tension and insecurity involved in their dual métier. Sontag wrote in surprisingly aspirational tones of ‘the novelist [I’d] finally given myself permission to be ...

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