02 March 2012

blue nights

Every now and again, you come across prose so perfectly on point that you can't stop reading.

This is how I feel with Joan Didion.

This is how I felt when I opened Blue Nights and read:
In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long an blue. [...] You notice it first as April ends and May begins, a change in the season, not exactly a warming—in fact, not at all a warming—yet suddenly summer seems near a possibility, even a promise. You pass a window, you walk to Central park, you find yourself swimming in the color blue: the actual light is blue, and over the course of an hour of so this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades, approximately finally the blue of the glass on a clear day at Chartres, or that of the Cerenkov radiation thrown off by the fuel rods in the pools of nuclear reactors. The French called this time of day "l'heure bleue." To the English, it was "the gloaming." The word "gloaming" reverberates, echoes—the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitters, the glisten, the glamour—carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows. During the blue nights you thing the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone.
Two hours later, I stopped reading, and it was the latest I had stayed up since...since who knows when. That a book about grief and love and life and aging can keep me awake says quite a lot about the book. {Similarly, that I keep falling asleep reading Margaret Thatcher's autobiography may say quite a lot about that book.}

The book is not on an easy topic, a fact that was brought home when someone in my office, after listening to me praise its wonders, asked for a summary.

"Well, you see, Joan Didion had a rather traumatic 20 months; she lost her husband suddenly {and subsequently wrote The Year of Magical Thinking about that journey of grief}, and then her daughter died. So Blue Nights is about her loss but also about her life with her daughter. It's about memory and how it can get muddled. It's about love and how it can get muddled. Did I mention the prose that makes you long to sit with Joan Didion over a cup of strong black coffee—and just listen?"

Blue Nights isn't easy, but it's honest. Real. Scathing. Introspective {at times, you feel like you're reading her journal, and you think perhaps you should close the cover and put it back where you found it}. Emotionally dizzying.

But oh, it's achingly beautiful.

Please go get Blue Nights now, should you be in need of a little pretty prose in your life. I know I generally am.

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