The Inside of Women’s Minds (gossamer nightmares)

24 Apr

My mother used to read Joan Didion when she was young and healthy and exceptionally breathtakingly beautiful. When she used to wear colour and silk, head scarves, make relish and had a babe to her breast as her top slipped down a little to prove a point; she would read Joan Didion. She had a friend, still a family friend, a man who loved my mother in a way best described as dedicated. Knowing as he did that his role would never be more than protector, keeper of secrets, of the finer things (moments, thoughts, laughter, saving kittens) he kept the greater distance and reduced the rest. He was always there when something important was happening, like a new Joan Didion novel.

I knew Joan’s name, I’d heard it in passing and believed it was in my DNA (my mother having read her in the 70’s and 80’s before I was born) but it wasn’t until I picked up an aged copy of A Book of Common Prayer in a second-hand book store that I actually took notice of the name.
There is something quite spooky about Didion, spooky in a Dusty Springfield type of way; she conjures women who are so lightly there. Like gossamer nightmares they’re opaque, troubled, heavy yet forever in flight. Men cannot ever really see them though they can’t stop looking and even the reader (even you, even me), do not know these women -we are only permitted to see as deep in as they  themselves are capable of seeing. Unlike other characters, but like real people, they do not know their own answers.
In this way they are more than characters. Their opacity is yours; think of all the times that someone has noticed something being ‘wrong with you’- those someones don’t know where the wrong is, just that it’s there and we’re often no wiser.  That level of human sadness, complexity, confusion and drifting is the magic that subtly raises Didion’s women off the page; looking for answers that may or may not be there.

Joan and her husband John were scriptwriters in the 60’s and 70’s and I think her economy of language must come from there but the women, where are they from? I’ve never read an author so biographically honest yet whose work is at the same time so unilluminating. Well that’s not exactly true – there are parts of Didion there for discovery but you have to be looking, you have to see through minute holes and read between pressed together lines. You have to breath slowly, hell you have to read slowly her books are so short, her craft for culling so great.
I think the reason I love Joan Didion’s writing so much are her female characters, I love her women. I love how complicated they are how meek yet always able to do strong things. I love how little sense they make, how beguiling they are, how beautiful. I love being a woman after reading about these women. And it’s strange all the things they are and all the things they aren’t: they’re about women but they aren’t feminist novels. They’re not not feminist novels either; they’re something all together more etherial, these women are on the ground but in their heads. These are  stories about the inside of the female mind; about the paper thin gap and the giant gaping hole between what goes on in their heads and in reality.

Here are some that I’ve enjoyed over and over again without whom I could not call my bookshelf a library:

A Book of Common Prayer / Play It As It Lays /Run River


More about her non-fiction / late husband and meditations on death soon…

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One Response to “The Inside of Women’s Minds (gossamer nightmares)”

  1. michael September 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    I really enjoyed your summary. Thank you for some educated reading. It was very colorful.

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