Book of the week – In Gratitude by Jenny Diski
The prolific author's swansong
Cliffsnotes: “Another fucking cancer diary” by prolific author Jenny Diski, which began as a series of columns for the London Review of Books in 2014 after she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given “two or three” years to live. The memoir ponders the banality and cliché of living with cancer and Diski’s uneasy, 50-year relationship with older novelist Doris Lessing who unofficially adopted her when she was a 15-year-old, expelled from school and already familiar with drugs and psychiatric wards. Wry, witty, relentlessly honest and never self-pitying, this is an original portrait of two brilliant writers and of a fiery talent being slowly extinguished.
Get a taste: Diski writes of the possible ways she could react to the death sentence her “Onc Doc” hands her.
Sullen rudeness is a possible option handed to us cancerees. It would institute a period of bad behaviour as one’s own private glumly-gleeful saturnalia, world turned upside down, lord-of-misrule regulated havoc, for a short period before the great slog of getting on with it began again, cancer or no cancer. I probably couldn’t sulk unto death, no matter that I’m one of the foremost sulkers on the planet. I’d get hungry. Or want to watch TV. Or have an itch I had to scratch, and any such desire immediately and fatally cracks the implacable wall of sulk.
Author 101: Jenny Diski was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, travelogues, book reviews and essays. Her potboiler of a life – from troubled childhood, bad parents and suicide attempts to serendipitously being taken in by Nobel-winner Doris Lessing, changing course dramatically to become one of the most original voices of her time – has driven much of her non-fiction works, of which Skating Around Antarctica and Stranger On A Train are standouts. Her fiction was inventive and unsettling – babies born without brains (Like Mother), threesomes with God (Only Human), and sadomasochistic heroines decades ahead of Fifty Shades (Nothing Natural). Diski died of lung cancer on this Thursday, a week after her cancer memoir, In Gratitude, came out.
Similar reads: Mortality by Christopher Hitchens, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
In Gratitude (Bloomsbury India) is out in June