Blue Nights

a serious read

I have treasure in my apartment. It is hidden in closets and in boxes (treasure chests). It lines my shelves and covers many of my surfaces. My husband complains but….Oh well! In case you hadn't guessed, I am speaking of books. All of my life, I have made the acquaintance of characters; some fictional and some real. The "people" part of literature as with film interests me the most. In the 1970's, I first encountered The White Album by Joan Didion.

This week, I was interested to note in That's Not My Age that the fashion house Céline had chosen Didion as its "face." There was quite a lot of comment on the choice: Didion is 80 years old, lined and very thin. She habitually wears black turtle necks and very large dark glasses. Although she is well-known in literary and film circles, her name is not a household word.

In visiting my book closet yesterday, I discovered that I had purchased a copy of Blue Nights at Shakespeare and Company in Paris last year. Although I vow not to buy books, I still have weak moments. I have read all of Didion's nonfiction works and the book was prominently displayed. I had found lots of interesting books in my Paris rental last year so I carried my purchase home unread.

If you don't know much about Joan Didion, you could read A Year of Magical Thinking,  Didion's account of the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, while her daughter, Quintana Roo, lay in a coma. Blue Nights is a sort of sequel to "Year" and deals with Quintana's death and Didion's realization that her own days are numbered.
    This book is called "Blue Nights" because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness. Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.

The "Blue Nights" refers to the gloaming or "l'heure bleue" before darkness. Didion faces the "fear not of what has been lost but of what there is still to be lost." As she faces her own mortality, Didion observes and shares her experiences as a frail elderly woman who has lost her " baby girl."

Joan Didion is sensitive and courageous. Throughout her career, she has not only observed society but she has exposed her own weaknesses and fears. I like to think that it is because of this honesty that she has been chosen the "face of Céline." Whatever that really means.


  1. I've been wanting to read this for some time now -- her Year of Magical Thinking was so compelling, so painful, honest. . . . and years ago, in a grad course I read A Book of Common Prayer. Like you, I was intrigued to see her chosen as the face of a fashion house and perhaps just as intrigued to read the many different responses to that choice. ...

  2. It was an unusual choice that has certainly provoked a fair bit of discussion. In Blue Nights, Didion, who has never been a robust woman, is considering not only the loss of her daughter but her own failing health and imminent demise. She speaks of the red shoes with 4 inch heels that she will never wear again. As we get older and lose the older "buffer" generation, we too will have to recognize our own mortality. I wonder….

  3. I must read her book...we must all come to terms with our mortality at some point.
    It is interesting and inspiring reading the opinions of others who are paving the way with grace...

  4. I don't think that considering our own mortality is easy but I think that it is a necessary exercise. You should read The Year of Magical Thinking first to fully understand Didion's losses.

  5. I too saw the note in That's Not My Age. Have never admired Celine so much as for that choice. I haven't yet read Blue Nights, so thank you for a really insightful sketch of its content. Have been thinking along those lines a lot lately, and the timing is perfect.

  6. The choice is certainly an unexpected one! We can not purchase wisdom or experience and we certainly wouldn't want to have experienced the cruel loss of a child but there is style and beauty in the face of the survivor. Blue Nights is worth the read.


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