From one of our most perceptive and provocative voices comes a deeply researched account of the last days of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak and James Salter - an arresting and wholly original meditation on mortality.
In The Violet Hour, Katie Roiphe takes an unexpected and liberating approach to the most unavoidable of subjects. She investigates the last days of six great thinkers, writers and artists as they come to terms with the reality of approaching death.
Roiphe draws on her own extraordinary research and access to the family, friends and caretakers of her subjects. Here is Susan Sontag, the consummate public intellectual, who finds her commitment to rational thinking tested during her third bout with cancer. Roiphe takes us to the hospital room where, after receiving the worst possible diagnosis, seventy-six-year-old John Updike begins writing a poem. She vividly re-creates the fortnight of almost suicidal excess that culminated in Dylan Thomas's fatal collapse on the floor of a Greenwich Village tavern. She gives us a bracing portrait of Sigmund Freud fleeing Nazi-occupied Vienna only to continue in his London exile the compulsive cigar smoking that he knows will hasten his decline. She shows us how Maurice Sendak's beloved books for children are infused with his lifelong obsession with death, if you know where to look. And from James Salter she learns that 'we make our own comfort.'
The Violet Hour is a book filled with intimate and surprising revelations. In the final acts of each of these creative geniuses are examples of courage, passion, self-delusion, pointless suffering and superb devotion. There are also moments of sublime insight and understanding where the mind creates its own comfort. As the author writes, 'If it's nearly impossible to capture the approach of death in words, who would have the most hope of doing it?' By bringing these great writers' final days to urgent, unsentimental life, Katie Roiphe helps us to look boldly in the face of death and be less afraid.
Katie Roiphe is an important voice in non-fiction. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Esquire, Harper's and The New Yorker. She has also written widely for the UK press.
In this elegant and beautifully written set of elegies, Katie Roiphe looks death squarely in the face, describing how people evanesce, how others lose them, how they lose themselves, how writing is a means to negotiate for immortality. This courageous, generous, intimate book is suffused with affection, and therefore provides comfort even when its topic is the loneliness that inheres in finality — Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree
[A] beautiful and haunting work. Never overly sentimental, this is a poignant and elegant inquiry into mortality — Kirkus
Elegant . . . courageous, generous, intimate — Andrew Solomon author of Far from the Tree
The Violet Hour is a revelation, at least to me. Her case studies-of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, Dylan Thomas, John Updike, and Maurice Sendak - focus on the last months of life, using each writer's final struggle as a key to his or her character. This is the best book Roiphe has written. She shows that our interest in dying is not just an interest in endings, or in final things, or in posterity. Instead, it has to do with how we get along, how families and friendship work, in short, how we live — Lorin Stein, Paris Review
Moving and insightful — Washington Post
Her technique is never anything less than insightful . . . on every page, she turns up something interesting, lets in some astonishing shaft of light. Her writing is elegant, cool, unforgettable — Rachel Cooke, Observer
Engrossing . . . Such an immersive book is testament to her remarkable literary skills. This is an immensely sympathetic and satisfying read — Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times
These elegant, moving elegies are full of riveting insight and poignant detail — Simple Things
The controlled and steady tone of all these portraits holds the book together, and makes it more than the
sum of its parts: a contemporary, uncomfortably familiar study of death in the modern age
— Evening Standard
Roiphe is an acute reader and listener with antennae tuned to pick up every nuance, and to penetrate the meaning behind meaning — Craig Brown, Daily Mail
Roiphe sheds fascinating light on the mystery of the end of life and her book offers a comfort of sorts — Financial Times
Each essay reads like an intelligently speculative biography with the boring bits left out — Daily Telegraph
The Violet Hour is an unflinching but meditative look at a topic that may be the last real taboo and I found it challenging, moving and even hopeful — Red