Book Review

Joan Didion: The 1980s & 90s (PART THREE)

i cannot read myself happy

Summer has arrived. It is hot.

And with that comes the continued and constant awareness of the ways in which my body has unpleasantly changed shape.

It is hot. I am wearing fewer clothes, and the clothes that I am wearing are all tighter than they used to be.

I think if I were to get out to the nudist beach on the islands I would feel more comfortable than I do here in the city.

I see people with bodies far more disgusting than mine (tbf I still have great legs) exposing great swathes of themselves – as in England the gross, visibly bigoted, middle aged white man swans around topless and I can’t imagine doing that. It’s invasive and aggressive and presumptive.

I’m (“in my opinion” (which I believe is correct)) unattractively overweight at the moment, and I can’t imagine wandering around openly topless until the gyms have been open again for at least a month or so. I have no such qualms about full public nudity, tho, maybe there’s something I should explore there.

I should probably try and get a therapist again.

Haven’t had one for a year lol. 

I’m going to ask my GP to change my meds, tho, the weight gain is a common side effect of all of the stuff I’m on at present, and tho it’s arguably good that I haven’t killed myself and I haven’t blacked out drunk for possibly the longest time ever (not counting the seventeen years before that started happening (very) regularly), I wouldn’t describe myself as content, let alone happy.

I’m so fucking bored I struggle to move unless it is to facilitate the satiation of a basic need, which makes the evening classes I’ve signed up to do much harder tbh.

I should be taking Spanish conversation classes again, I feel better about myself when I’m able to feel like my life has progressed in some minor way since I left provincial England fourteen years ago.

Oh, there’s the writing and the books, of course, but I’m not really writing anything at the moment other than these blogs (lol) and the homework for my evening classes (tho I did edit the poo anthology too over the last couple of months and I will spend the rest of the day today after I’ve finished doing laundry (yes, I’m again typing this sat in a plastic bucket chair in the grubby launderette I go to (when an undergraduate I wrote – or planned to write maybe (?) – a scene where a character called Jack Velázquez had a conversation with someone who may or may not have been Father Christmas in an Edinburgh launderette) going thru the hip-hop-o-crit manuscript as I need to make sure that happens but then what, then what do I do? 

I don’t have a plan, a forward motion.

Should I try and write a novel again?

Should I finish one of the two novellas I’ve written half of during the last ten years?

Should I do another edit of White Lines, Black Truffles and/or the sexed up biblical novel I wrote where I based Jesus on myself?

Should I send out more poems to magazines?

Should I try and make a chapbook or collection out of the current mass of unpublished poems I have?

Should I resume the Flemingway project?

Should I give up?

Should I try and manufacture some kind of lived experience that will give me something to write about?

Should I copy the structure of hip-hop-o-crit but with the shitty guitar music I wrote as a teenager?

Should I try and pull together the weird writing about hairloss I did for proper(ish) newspapers and stuff that I was able to do for a brief period before I left the UK and then stopped trying?

Should I try again to pitch to “serious” magazines?

And say what, y’know?

I’ve got nothing to say.

If you’ve read all of this you’re a fool and can attest to the previous sentence.

After Henry (1992)

Named after the editor who was the first serious champion of Didion’s writing (as well as her much less famous husband), who died a few years before this book of collected essays was published (and during the period when they were being written).

After Henry is like the first two of Didion’s books: varied, with some pieces seemingly plucked entire from magazines and others expanded massively.

It’s, of course, very political, very analytical and there is lots about the connections between politics/political ideologies and the media/media presentations of said ideas.

It’s all interesting and informative, and the final – extended – piece is one of Didion’s most famous ones, her exploration of the infamous Central Park violent sexual assault on a jogging banker, which five young black and Latino men were (wrongly, tho this wasn’t confirmed at the time of Didion’s writing, but the flimsiness of the prosecution’s case was noted) convicted. (Oh, I’ve just looked it up to find that wikipedia link and they weren’t “young men”, they were children.)

The case was used as metaphor for the city, for the country, for the divisions between rich and poor, the differences between those with “possibilities” and those without. It’s a great essay.

It’s a great collection.

It’s the longest book within this book, and may well have been the longest single text that Didion ever published. Was about to type “posted” lol, tho I of course know that publishing and posting are not the same.

The Last Thing He Wanted (1996)

This was Didion’s final novel, and that’s disappointing because it’s fucking brilliant.

Like all of her final three novels, it’s about south American politics and espionage and CIA plots, like her penultimate novel it contains a first person Joan Didion character who met and spoke with several of the characters included in the text.

It’s about a middle aged ish woman who gets involved in an illicit arms deal. There’s a recent film version of the narrative with Ben Affleck and Anne Hathaway in it, tho it’s apparently shit.

The novel’s great.

All of Didion’s work is great. Sadly, there’s not a huge amount of her writing I haven’t yet read.


5th June is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

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