In Gratitude (Hardcover)
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National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
The future flashed before my eyes in all its pre-ordained banality. Embarrassment, at first, to the exclusion of all other feelings. But embarrassment curled at the edges with a weariness …
I got a joke in.
“So – we’d better get cooking the meth,” I said to the Poet.
In July 2014, Jenny Diski was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and given “two or three years” to live. She didn’t know how to react. All responses felt scripted, as if she were acting out her part. To find the response that felt wholly her own, she had to face the cliches and try to write about it. And there was another story to write, one she had not yet told: that of being taken in at age fifteen by the author Doris Lessing, and the subsequent fifty years of their complex relationship.
In the pages of the London Review of Books, to which Diski contributed for the last quarter century, she unraveled her history with Lessing: the fairy-tale rescue as a teenager, the difficulties of being absorbed into an unfamiliar family, the modeling of a literary life. Swooping from one memory to the next—alighting on the hysterical battlefield of her parental home, her expulsion from school, the drug-taking twenty-something in and out of psychiatric hospitals -- and telling all through the lens of living with terminal cancer, through what she knows will be her final months, Diski paints a portrait of two extraordinary writers -- Lessing and herself.
From a wholly original thinker comes a book like no other: a cerebral, witty, dazzlingly candid masterpiece about an uneasy relationship; about memory and writing, ingratitude and anger; about living with illness and facing death.
About the Author
Jenny Diski (1947 - 2016) was the author of Skating To Antarctica, The Dream Mistress, and Stranger on a Train from Picador. She lived in Cambridge, England.
"Diski is one of the great anomalies of contemporary literature; she has made a habit, and a career, of writing books that no one else would even think of writing . . . What binds together the disparate elements of her genre-confounding work-- part memoir, part travelogue, part criticism, part rant -- is the force of Diski’s peculiar personality . . . A marvel of steady and dispassionate self-revelation, Diski’s cancer essays are bracingly devoid of sententiousness, sentimentality or any kind of spiritual urge or twitch . . . They also testify to an inner life of undiminished hyperactivity." - Giles Harvey, The New York Times Magazine
"Nothing she writes ever sounds like it could have been written by someone else . . . [And] the essay form – part digressive memoir, part journey of exacting critical discovery – has always seemed her natural home . . . She has an uncanny ability to connect wildly disparate ideas and make them spark, to take readers on vivid mystery tours along her own neurological pathways, authorial umbrella held aloft. Her essays are often survival stories. And Diski has survived a great deal." - Tim Adams, The Guardian
"The force of Jenny Diski's personality, and the penetration of her mind, are as vivid as anything in contemporary journalism . . . She deserves our unfeigned admiration, not for her bravery or her struggle, or an irrelevant tosh like that, bur for writing so well." - Andrew Brown, The Guardian
"Both heavy and light, Diski's beautifully written memoir is worth any reader's time." - Publishers Weekly
"Sometimes rueful, often oblique, but provocative and highly readable." - Kirkus Reviews
"This is an unsentimental portrait of living with illness and facing death, from one of the fiercest and most uncompromising writers of her generation." - Booklist
"I need a replacement word for fierce. I need something slightly less bloodying than savage and something more devastating than captious. I need a word for Jenny Diski’s undiminished prose in this, her final book, In Gratitude, which is being released in the U.S. just weeks after her death on April 28, 2016, nearly two years after she was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. I need the right word. Don’t have it." - Beth Kephart, New York Journal of Books
"While I couldn’t read ‘In Gratitude’ without a persistent lump in my throat, and without the persistent awareness that its author was in a bed, somewhere, experiencing the very last days or hours or minutes of her life, Diski’s final book proves transcendently disobedient, the most existence-affirming and iconoclastic defense a writer could mount against her own extinction. - Heidi Julavits, New York Times Book Review
"She is sly and wry, with an underhanded humor. It’s there in the title, how easily In Gratitude becomes ingratitude. She began this memoir when she was handed her diagnosis; she may be dying, but her rebellious personality is alive and vibrant and bursting on the page." - The Rumpus
"[A] searing, no-prisoner's-taken memoir." - Martin Rubin, Washington Times
"In her final memoir before her death, Diski, who was quasi-adopted by Doris Lessing, examines the origin, and the close, of her life as a writer." - New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice
"[Diski's] last book is alive with everything that made her great -- caustic humor, unrepentant self-scrutiny, a sinuous prose style -- and proof that in the hands of some writers, autobiography can be a springboard to limitless possibilities." - Christian Lorentzen, Vulture "10 best books of 2016"
"Diski’s North London truancy in the early 1960s, her initiation into writing through Lessing’s example, and her dry thoughts about her coming end (who would die first, her or Clive James)--these elements make for the final masterpiece of a writer whose prose always delivered the force of her personality." - Christian Lorentzen, New York Magazine, Vulture blog
"Everyone who reads this book will wish she were still around to sit back and half-smile at our discomfort." - Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly
"For me, the most essential aspect of In Gratitude is that Diski never once averts her gaze . . . This is a story about death we want to hear: how it was reckoned with, or even overcome. This is a story about death that doesn’t end in disappearance, that pulls out some sort of grace or perseverance at the close. This is a story about death that is really about resilience, which is another way of saying loss or grief and how we handle them." - David Ulin, LitHub
"Nobody had a voice quite like Diski’s . . . Through it all, you have the sense of Diski turning her life over and over in her lively mind, writing it all down to figure out what she thinks." - Tom Beer, Newsday
"With "In Gratitude," she has written a different kind of cancer memoir, and an almost entirely platitude-free one, simply by writing a typically sui-generis Jenny Diski book. Which is to say, a book that pushes in five or six directions at once." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times, Books of the Times
"Diski was a spare, beautiful, economical writer . . . [In Gratitude] is a sly reminder of the closeness of gratitude and ingratitude: the way one blends or corrodes into the other in life and in memory . . . It is the book of a born fighter that will last far beyond 2016." - Wall Street Journal
"It's a well-told story, partly because she makes us think of the passing of time in a very particular way . . . We know and she knows, that the time to tell all of this is limited. It's very moving." - Evening Standard