I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Laughter from the Grave

Laughter from the Grave

Katrina Goldstone
Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?, by Jenny Diski, Bloomsbury Publishing, 432 pp, £18.99, ISBN: 978-1526621900 Jenny Diski was using Twitter and doing a personal blog almost up to the time of her death, observing, then passing on, dispatches from the mortality front line. That always stops me in my tracks, that fact. There was the extraordinary effort, both physical and mental, to do it. But there was also the impulse ‑ or is it compulsion? ‑ to stare down even the most unpalatable experiences and then interpret them in her own contrarian and quirky fashion. That drive, despite ongoing pain and wretched weariness, stayed with her till she expired. One Guardian interviewer, Robert Hanks, recalled that despite tiredness, and having to lie mostly in bed, “ … she swigs from a bottle of morphine and keeps writing”. She became semi-famous for the manner of her dying and could joke about that too. As well as her blow-by-blow account of the progress of her illness, in her book In Gratitude, published posthumously, she revisited her unusual adolescence as a surrogate daughter to Doris Lessing. The relationship was certainly not the happy-ever-after it seemed to be when, after a psychologically scarring, unsettled childhood of high drama, Diski ended up being semi adopted by Lessing. Diski has become slightly pigeonholed as an assiduous death chronicler. What these essays and reviews remind us is how insistently alive she was, that she could tackle anything from Howard Hughes’s germaphobia to Christine Keeler’s conservatism, and produce a startlingly fresh insight on what we thought we knew about the lives and drives of certain public figures. From 1993 to 2016, she wrote over two hundred pieces for the London Review of Books. She also published ten novels and five books of non-fiction Most were, as her friend and editor Mary-Kay Wilmers put it, “reflections on the world and its stories for the most part”. But they were also mini-distillations of what Wilmers called “Jenny-ness”, a heady elixir indeed. Thirty-two of the LRB pieces are collected in this book. Reading these is like being in the company of a very sharp, eccentric friend who always astounds, and confounds you with the offbeat acuity of their observations, the friend who says the true mean things you might think of but never dare to express. I lost track of the number of times I snorted with laughter at an on point observation,…

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