Joan Didion (2011) Blue Nights.

Blue Nights, for Joan Didion, are that special time of year during the summer solstice and longest days between April and May where the wold is lit up by an eerie beauty. But she reminds the reader where she comes from, subtropical California, the Golden State, does not get Blue Light. It’s not Dylan Thomas’s refrain about not going gently into the night, nor rage, rage against the dying of the light, but a meditation on what it means to have lost her husband and daughter in quick succession in 2003 and her mother two years before. She writes down how it feels, what grief is to process how time betrays us.

John Gregory Dunne. May 25 1932—December 30 2003.

But mostly it’s a momento mori in which death gets it the wrong way round. A mother buries her daughter.

Where she lives in New York does. But there it is associated with the death of her beautiful, precocious daughter, Quintina Roo. How the dead rise within us, because they never really go away.

‘I find myself thinking exclusively about Quintana.

I need her with me.’

She begins with her daughter’s wedding to Mr. Gerard Brian Michael on Saturday, 23rd July 2010.

‘Today would be her wedding anniversary.’

‘When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children.’

‘Something happened’

‘On my last birthday, December 5th 2009, I became seventy-five years old.’

‘I became five.’

‘Quintana was born when I was thirty-one.’

‘Only yesterday Quintana was born.’ 

Time is not that stepwise progression we make it out to be. Ageing goes against the evidence, but not the grain. We believe we are the exception to the rule until the numbers don’t add up. We don’t add up.

The intoxication of love for this beautiful and perfect baby they adopted came with a fairy-tale curse: fear. She admits it ran down the maternal line, but wonders if it’s universal. Women who would pick up and pack up and leave carrying nothing but their children and seed for a new garden, travel a thousand miles and start again.  Yet there was that fragility. That need to keep moving. Keep doing. Fear travels well. She wonders if she infected her daughter. Her beautiful daughter had issues of abandonment and loss.

‘This was never supposed to have happened to her.’   

Aging is a trick played on the body. Didion doesn’t feel old, but she feels lost. Keep moving. She faithfully attends a play she wrote. Vanessa Redgrave plays the lead. It’s about her daughter, it’s about her life, it’s about her, but not only about her. So many reminders of her daughter’s wedding, The Butterfly and the Bell, the book her daughter loved, but she couldn’t fathom, snatches of Sophie Loren looking divine.

When Didion has an accident and bloodier than Lady Macbeth, she’s taking to hospital, but the wrong hospital. A mix-up. Frail. Elderly. They assume she’s issues with her heart, because that’s where her ward is located—which she had, her daughter died—but it’s not a medical problem, it’s a life problem. Slow down. Speed up. Nothing really works. Her daughter’s bleeding brain. What is the answer when there is no answer? Write about it? Read on.