Jenny Diski

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Jenny Diski
Born Jenny Simmonds
(1947-07-08) 8 July 1947 (age 67)
Occupation Writer
Genre Autobiography, fiction, non-fiction, screenplay, travel

Jenny Diski FRSL (née Simmonds;[1] born 8 July 1947) is an English writer. Diski was educated at University College London, and worked as a teacher during the 1970s and early 1980s.[2] She won the 2003 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking around America With Interruptions.

Diski is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books; the collections Don't and A View from the Bed include articles and essays written for the publication.

Early life[edit]

A troubled teenager from a difficult, fractured home with a Jewish father,[3] Diski spent much of her formative years as in- or outpatient at various psychiatric institutions.[4] At the same time, she immersed herself deeply in the culture of the '60s, from the Aldermaston Marches to the Grosvenor Square protests,[5] from drugs to free love, from jazz to acid rock[6] and a flirtation with the ideas and methods of R. D. Laing.[7] Taken into the London home of a school-friend’s mother, the novelist Doris Lessing,[8] Diski resumed her education; and by the start of the 1970s was training as a teacher, starting a free school, and making her first publication.[9]


Over the decades, Diski has shown herself to be a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction, articles, reviews and books. Many of her early books tackle such troubling if absorbing themes as depression, sado-masochism, and madness.[10] However, some of her later writings, such as Apology for the Woman Writing, strike a more positive note;[8] while her spare, ironic tone, using all the resources of magic realism, provides a unique take on even the most distressing material.[11] Compared at times to her mentor Lessing for their joint interest in the thinking woman,[8] Diski has been called a post-postmodern for her abiding distrust of logical systems of thought, whether postmodern or not.[12]

On "The Sixties"[edit]

Diski sets out in her personal memoir to describe her experience of the 1960s:

I lived in London during that period, regretting the Beats, buying clothes, going to movies, dropping out, reading, taking drugs, spending time in mental hospitals, demonstrating, having sex, teaching.[13]

This could be considered a normative 1960s life-style, while her representation of the era as a sort of golden age is also not atypical of her generation.[14] However she also describes the darker side of the age – for example its pervasive sexism, institutionalised in the countercultural cult of casual sex – stating that

On the basis that no means no, I was raped several times by men who arrived in my bed and wouldn't take no for an answer.[15]

Diski returns repeatedly to the question of how far the cult of the self in the permissive society gave rise to 1980s neoliberalism, greed and self-interest.[16] She concludes that, in the words of Charles Shaar Murray,

The line from hippie to yuppie is not nearly as convoluted as people like to believe.[17]

Personal life[edit]

She married Roger Diski in 1976, and their daughter Chloe was born in 1977;[18] the couple separated in 1981[1] and divorced. Her current partner is Ian Patterson, known as "the Poet" in Diski's writings, who is a translator and director of English Studies at Queens' College, Cambridge.

In September 2014, Diski revealed that she had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.[19]



  • Nothing Natural (1986)
  • Rainforest (1987)
  • Like Mother (1988)
  • Then Again (1990)
  • Happily Ever After (1991)
  • Monkey's Uncle (1994)
  • The Vanishing Princess (1995) (short stories)
  • The Dream Mistress (1996)
  • After These Things (2004)
  • Only Human: A Comedy (2000)
  • Apology for the Woman Writing (2008)


  • Skating to Antarctica (1997) (memoir)
  • Don't (1998) (essays)
  • Stranger on a Train (2002) (travelogue) - winner of the 2003 J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography
  • A View from the Bed (2003) (essays)
  • On Trying to Keep Still (2006)
  • The Sixties (2009) (memoir)
  • What I Don’t Know About Animals (2010) (nature)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Katharine Viner Obituary: Roger Diski, The Guardian, 8 March 2011.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Diski, Skating to Antarctica p. 35
  4. ^ Jenny Diski, The Sixties (2009) p. 23 and p. 31
  5. ^ Diski, Sixties p. 28 and p. 69
  6. ^ Diski, Sixties p. 33-44
  7. ^ Diski, Sixties p. 132
  8. ^ a b c Turner.
  9. ^ Diski, Sixties p. 24 and p. 97-8
  10. ^ Nick Turner "Critical Perspective"
  11. ^ Nick Rennisson, Contemporary British Novelists (2005), p. 44.
  12. ^ Gerd Bayer, in Vanessa Guignery ed., (Re-)mapping London (2007), p. 24 and p. 31
  13. ^ Diski Sixties p.7.
  14. ^ D. Sandbrook, White Heat (2007) p. 542
  15. ^ Diski, Sixties, p. 59 and p. 61.
  16. ^ Diski, Sixties, p. 136.
  17. ^ Quoted in Diski, Sixties, p135 and compare pp. 87-8.
  18. ^ Steve Crawshaw "Roger Diski: Social entrepreneur who championed sustainable tourism to post-conflict countries", The Independent, 10 March 2011.
  19. ^

External links[edit]