This book is as much about aging than it is about her adopted daughter Quintana. It is a sad book. It is a book of acceptance, I think.
I read this in one siting on the porch of my Girlfriends mom, living in Finnland, it was already a little too cold to sit there for the four hours or so it took me. But the book didn’t let me go.
In my last review of two of Didion’s books I wrote that the author’s smarts won’t save her from the inevitability of life. In the end her body, her mind, will fail. In the end, what could she even have done to save her child? So she mourns, or tries to mourn, like a person not acquainted with these traditions. This outsider’s view to a very human problem was very relatable: I find myself often fascinated but not affected personally by the emotional weather of day to day life. It’s more the second order emotions - emotions about other people’s reactions to things I believe to have already understood, filed away, moved on from - that get me. This is probably more common than I know I presume at times.
It is very powerful to read about a person so gifted that she can’t help it to struggle with the voice in which she writes. Was how she wrote before her memoirist turn ever anything more than something she used instead of her own voice? In short: a voice instead of her voice? That is probably not fair. Authenticity is not a boolean. It is a construct. A repeated question from the book: How can one be direct in one’s writing? Although I listened to “The Year Of Magical Thinking” I think Blue Nights might be her most reflective book I have consumed, yet.
Didion is not shy to discuss the many mental health issues, that her Daughter had to face. How the names for the diagnosis changed over time, but the problems essentially stayed the same. One such name: borderline personality disorder. Mental health is not what took her life, not directly at least, but a lost battle against infection. That Quintana was adopted plays a big part in the book and is one of the most powerful themes: Didion’s reflection about the ‘recommended choice narrative’ and Quintanas question “What if you didn’t choose me?” is as relatable as it is gut-wrenching.
It’s hard to imagine what my impression of “Blue Nights” would have been without knowing “The Year Of Magical Thinking”. It is often the case with memoirist writing that its power stems from the layers - in volume as in sophistication and arrangement. And I feel like Didion’s two memoirs, as sad as they might be, are amazingly rich and deep.
In my last review I mentioned the problem of privilege in Didion’s writing and this makes it harder at times to relate to her. In Blue Nights she makes an attempt to address this topic, when she asks whether Quintana had a privileged childhood or not. The answer comes down to “I mean, we weren’t that rich…”. Maybe this would have needed a more elaborate treatment.
I really liked this book and I am surprised how much I managed to write about it, or rather my thoughts about it, here. I like Didion as a memoirist, too. I am not so sure that I will ever check out her more literary works. I actually rarely do that after having consumed memoirs of writers or artists. No, it’s the mundane and not so mundane everyday stuff - or rather its heightened, polished reflective version - that interests me.
One last time back to the book: “Blue Nights” is a great book about mourning, about aging, about being a parent and a writer. Didion is steeped in a way of life that I would guess only exists in its fossilized forms, in memories. The relatable topics and the now lost to us extravagance of old Hollywood produce a rich, deep and at times paradoxical memoir that I would especially recommend if you can spare the time to consume “The Year Of Magical Thinking” beforehand.
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