On Grief, and the Year of Her Magical Thinking

And so, the second book of the year becomes a DNF. When I closed The Year of Magical Thinking – perhaps the 21st century’s most highly praised book on death – this evening, around page 120, I knew I wasn’t going to re-open it. Highly praised, but I just didn’t get it; indeed, I found it irritating, and yes I feel terrible for saying that. This is not the story of a woman who lost her husband to a sudden heart attack and who suffered a daughter drifting near to death thanks to pneumonia. This is a book about those real events.

Perhaps it’s not a bad book; but it is not what the reviews and the coverage said it was, and crucially, it was not what I wanted; the danger of writing a book about something, especially something like grief – rather than someone (fictional or real), somewhere, or some story – is that you will attract people who have been affected by that thing in the real world, and drawn by the dark energy of the subject, not the presence of the writing or the power of the book, they are hunting. Those people – and I am one – are looking for something very specific, specific to them, their own truth, and your book about your pain will seem to them meagre, dry and so completely curious as to be incomprehensible. Consider how sad this comment about the book on Amazon is; bone-dry, when the facts are full of tears:

“I bought this book as I thought it was a book to help bereaved people generally, but although parts of it helped regarding the loss of my daughter at the age of 45, I would say that it is really for widows.”

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