Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Dear Reader:

Yes, I’m on a roll!  Now that I’m back, for awhile, from my many travels, I’m very much enjoying my time reading and blogging (and cooking and hiking with the dogs).  However, please note that some of these books have been pretty quick reads….

#129) Blue Nights by Joan Didion (hard copy, library)

I read The Year of Magical Thinking about Didion’s fast, unexpected loss of her husband, (also a famous writer) Gregory Dunne, when it came out and liked it very much.  As an essayist, journalist, novelist, and screen writer, Didion has been part of the New York and L.A. literary and movie scenes for decades.  She writes beautifully and incisively, bringing you quickly into her world with just a few sentences and images.

The Year of Magical Thinking was a big hit and Didion was still promoting it when her dear, beloved daughter, Quintana Roo, finally died after being in and out of ICUs for more than a year after a bout of septic shock.  Gregory Dunne had died while Quintana was first in the hospital.  Her husband and daughter were her life, and Didion powerfully elucidates the depth of her despair and disorientation in Year of Magical Thinking (at the time of the writing Quintana was recovering).

Blue Nights takes its name from a time in the late spring in the Northeast when the twilights are a blue that makes everything take on the same color.  It is the story of Quintana, told in fragments, memories, poems, and stories.  She also talks about her friend, Vanessa Redgrave’s loss of her wonderful actress daughter, Natasha Richardson, which occurred in 2009 as the result of a skiing accident.  Natasha had grown up with Quintana as the fun, older teenage friend and Didion loved watching her grow into a gracious adult friend.  Redgrave did a one woman Broadway show based on Magical Thinking.

I don’t have children and never wanted to have any, so it is impossible for me to understand the depth of loss associated with losing a child.  I can envision it as qualitatively in the same universe as losing a beloved pet before their time, but sense that the magnitude of sadness is on a scale beyond my reckoning.  Didion beautifully conveys the anguish of her life and memories after losing so many beloved friends and family members in such a short time.  There were passages that were so moving – in unexpected spots – she has a way of conveying her mental state through repeated phrases and images that help us understand how she was feeling as she takes us through the ups and downs of parenthood and, ultimately, being left behind.

Still, I can’t imagine how you go on after all of that – and, clearly, she had days and weeks when she didn’t know if she could.  But she did.  And we are lucky that she was able to craft some of the best work conveying the pain of the death of close loved ones that the literary world has seen.

Happy Reading!  Ruby



  1. leorahle

    Hi Ruby,

    I agree with you, I was enthralled by A Year of Magical Thinking. I will look for Blue Nights. I just received my first Barbara Pym book: Excellent Women and can hardly wait for my class to start.

    • Hi Leorah: Thanks for writing! A Year of Magical Thinking really was a gift to us all. Didion is so brutally honest. I hope you like Excellent Women, I certainly did. All the best, Ruby

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