The Year of Magical Thinking

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The Year of Magical Thinking
First edition
AuthorJoan Didion
CountryUnited States
Published2005 Alfred A. Knopf
Media typePrint (hardcover & paperback)
813/.54 B 22
LC ClassPS3554.I33 Z63 2005

The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), by Joan Didion (1934–2021), is an account of the year following the death of the author's husband John Gregory Dunne (1932–2003). Published by Knopf in October 2005, The Year of Magical Thinking was immediately acclaimed as a classic book about mourning. It won the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction[1] and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award[2] and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.[3]

Structure and themes[edit]

The book recounts Didion's experiences of grief after Dunne's 2003 death. Days before his death, their daughter Quintana Roo Dunne Michael was hospitalized in New York with pneumonia which developed into septic shock; she was still unconscious when her father died. In 2004, Quintana was again hospitalized after she fell and hit her head disembarking from a plane at LAX. After learning of her father's death, she returned to Malibu, her childhood home.

The book follows Didion's reliving and reanalysis of her husband's death throughout the following year, in addition to caring for Quintana. With each replay of the event, the focus on certain emotional and physical aspects of the experience shifts. Didion also incorporates medical and psychological research on grief and illness into the book.

The title of the book refers to magical thinking in the anthropological sense, thinking that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions then an unavoidable event can be averted. Didion reports many instances of her own magical thinking, particularly the story in which she cannot give away Dunne's shoes, as he would need them when he returned.[4] The experience of insanity or derangement that is part of grief is a major theme, about which Didion was unable to find a great deal of existing literature.[5]

Didion applies the reportorial detachment for which she is known to her own experience of grieving; there are few expressions of raw emotion. Through observation and analysis of changes in her own behavior and abilities, she indirectly expresses the toll her grief is taking. She is haunted by questions about the medical details of her husband's death, the possibility that he sensed it in advance, and how she might have made his remaining time more meaningful. Fleeting memories of events and persistent snippets of past conversations with John take on a new significance. Her daughter's continuing health problems and hospitalizations further compound and interrupt the natural course of grief.

Writing process[edit]

Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking between October 4 and December 31, 2004, completing it a year and a day after Dunne died.[6] Notes she made during Quintana's hospitalizations became part of the book.[7] Quintana Roo Dunne Michael died of pancreatitis on August 26, 2005, before the book's publication, but Didion did not revise the manuscript.[8] Instead she devoted a second book, Blue Nights, to her daughter's death.[9]


The New York Times Book Review praised the memoir as "not a downer. On the contrary. Though the material is literally terrible, the writing is exhilarating and what unfolds resembles an adventure narrative."[10] The New York Review of Books declared, "I can't imagine dying without this book."[11] The American Prospect's mixed review found that the book read "like a Warren Report on the death of LBJ."[12] In 2019, the book was ranked 40th on The Guardian's list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.[13]

Theatre adaption[edit]

On March 29, 2007, Didion's adaptation of her book for Broadway, directed by David Hare, opened with Vanessa Redgrave as the sole cast member. The play expands upon the memoir by dealing with Quintana's death. It ran for 24 weeks at the Booth Theatre in New York City and the following year Redgrave reprised her role to largely positive reviews at London's National Theatre.[14] This production was set to tour the world, including Salzburg, Athens, Dublin Theatre Festival, Bath and Cheltenham.[15] The play was also performed in the Sydney Theatre Company's 2008 season, starring Robyn Nevin and directed by Cate Blanchett.[16]

Also in 2008, it was performed in Barcelona at the Sala Beckett, directed by Òscar Molina and starring Marta Angelat.

The play was performed in Canada at the Belfry Theatre in 2009 and at the Tarragon Theatre by Seana McKenna.[17] This production was also mounted in January 2011 as part of English Theatre's season at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

On October 26, 2009 Redgrave reprised her performance again in a benefit production of the play at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.[14]

In January 2010, the play was mounted at the Court Theatre (Chicago), starring Mary Beth Fisher. Fisher won the 2010 "Jeff" Solo Performance Award for her performance in the play.[18]

The play was mounted in April 2011 by Nimbus Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, starring Barbra Berlovitz and directed by Liz Neerland.[19][20]

In 2011, Fanny Ardant played a French translation of The Year of Magical Thinking in Théâtre de l'Atelier, Paris.

The play opened in May 2015, at Teatro Español y Naves del Español in Madrid, Spain, as El Año del Pensamiento Mágico[21] produced by Teatro Guindalera. The production starred Jeannine Mestre and was directed by Juan Pastor Millet.[21]

The Norwegian translation of the play premiered in September 2015 at Den Nationale Scene in Bergen, directed by Jon Ketil Johnsen and starring Rhine Skaanes.[22]

On November 3, 2017, Stageworks Theatre in Tampa, Florida, opened a production of the play featuring Vickie Daignault. Writing in the Tampa Bay Times, Colette Bancroft noted Daignault's "skill and subtlety" and the exploration of grief in Didion's play that was "raw and refined at once."[23]

Beginning in March 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forced theatres to close worldwide. In the fall of 2021, productions began to resurface. Cesear's Forum, a minimalist theatre company at Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio, presented the play, with Julia Kolibab, in a November/December production.[24]


  • Czech: Víc než další den, lit.'More Than the Next Day'. Translated by Jarmila Emmerová. Prague: Beta - Pavel Dobrovský. 2006. ISBN 8073062593.
  • Dutch: Het jaar van magisch denken. Translated by Christien Jonkheer. Amsterdam: Prometheus. 2006. ISBN 9789044608366.
  • Italian: L'anno del pensiero magico. Translated by Vincenzo Mantovani. Milan: Il Saggiatore. 2006. ISBN 9788842813828.
  • Spanish: El año del pensamiento mágico. Translated by Olivia de Miguel. Chicago: Global Rhythm Press. 2006. ISBN 9788493448745.
  • Chinese: 奇想之年; pinyin: Qíxiǎng zhī nián; lit. 'Year of Wonder'. Translated by Li Jingyi. Taipei: YLib. 2007. ISBN 9789573260042.
  • Finnish: Maagisen ajattelun aika. Translated by Marja Haapio. Helsinki: Like. 2007. ISBN 9789524718912.
  • French: L'année de la pensée magique. Translated by Pierre Demarty. Paris: Grasset. 2007. ISBN 9782246712510.
  • Norwegian: De magiske tankers år. Translated by Halvor Kristiansen. Oslo: Tiden Norsk Forlag. 2007. ISBN 9788205364998.
  • Polish: Rok magicznego myślenia. Translated by Hanna Pasierska. Warsaw: Prószyński i S-ka. 2007. ISBN 9788374695183.
  • Turkish: O yılın büyüsü, lit.'The Magic of That Year'. Translated by Burcu Tümer Unan. Ankara: Arkadaş Yayınevi. 2007. ISBN 9789755095165.
  • Croatian: Godina magičnog razmišljanja. Translated by Lara Hölbling Matković. Ivanec Bistranski: Fraktura. 2009. ISBN 9789532661187.
  • Greek: Η χρονιά της μαγικής σκέψης, romanizedI chroniá tis magikís sképsis. Translated by Xenia Mavrommati. Athens: KEDROS. 2011. ISBN 9789600442601.
  • Japanese: 悲しみにある者, romanizedKanashimi ni aru mono, lit.'One in Sorrow'. Translated by Toshio Ikeda. Tokyo: Keio University Press. 2011. ISBN 9784766418705.
  • Hungarian: A mágikus gondolatok éve. Translated by Krisztina Varga. Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó. 2017. ISBN 9789634056775.
  • Danish: Et år med magisk tænkning. Translated by Bente Kastberg. Copenhagen: Gyldendal. 2018. ISBN 9788702261738.
  • Arabic: عام التفكير السحري, romanizedAm al-tafkir al-siriy. Translated by Shadi Kharmasho. Baghdad: Dar al-Mada. 2020. ISBN 9789933604363.
  • Bulgarian: Годината на магическото мислене, romanizedGodinata na magicheskoto mislene. Translated by Zornitsa Hristova. Sofia: List. 2021. ISBN 9786197596519.
  • Russian: Год магического мышления, romanizedGod magicheskogo myshleniya. Translated by Vasily Arkanov. Moscow: Corpus. 2021. ISBN 9785171210922.
  • Serbian: Година магијског мишљења, romanizedGodina magijskog mišljenja. Translated by Alen Bešić. Belgrade: Štrik. 2022. ISBN 9788689597646.
  • Slovak: Rok magického myslenia. Translated by Jana Juráňová. Bratislava: BRAK. 2023. ISBN 9788082860217.
  • European Portuguese: O Ano do Pensamento Mágico. Translated by Hugo Gonçalves. Lisbon: Infinito Particular / Cultura. 2017. ISBN 9789898886125


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 2005". National Book Foundation. Retrieved February 20, 2012. With acceptance speech
  2. ^ "All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists". National Book Critics Circle. Archived from the original on February 20, 2007. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  3. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes". Retrieved May 31, 2007.
  4. ^ Feeney, Mark (October 25, 2005). "Amid unbearable sorrow, she shows her might". The Boston Globe. Retrieved June 9, 2008.
  5. ^ Van Meter, Jonathan (October 2, 2005). "When Everything Changes". New York Magazine. Retrieved June 9, 2008.
  6. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (August 20, 2006). "The years of writing magically". The Guardian. London. Retrieved June 9, 2008.
  7. ^ Brockes, Emma (December 16, 2005). "Q: How were you able to keep writing after the death of your husband? A: There was nothing else to do. I had to write my way out of it". The Guardian. London. Retrieved June 9, 2008.
  8. ^ McKinley, Jesse (August 29, 2005). "Joan Didion's New Book Faces Tragedy". The New York Times. Retrieved June 9, 2008.
  9. ^ Banville, John (November 3, 2011). "Joan Didion Mourns Her Daughter". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  10. ^ Pinsky, Robert (October 9, 2005). "'The Year of Magical Thinking': Goodbye to All That". The New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  11. ^ Leonard, John (October 20, 2005). "The Black Album: Review of The Year of Magical Thinking". New York Review of Books. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  12. ^ Hall, Linda (October 24, 2005). "The Last Thing She Wanted". The American Prospect. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  13. ^ "The 100 best books of the 21st century". The Guardian. September 21, 2019. Retrieved September 22, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Hetrick, Adam (August 26, 2009). "Redgrave to Recount The Year of Magical Thinking at St. John the Divine Oct. 26". Playbill. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  15. ^ Robertson, Campbell (May 26, 2006). "Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Didion, Working on a Merger". The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  16. ^ Hallett, Bryce (September 8, 2007). "Theatre's dream team keeps Nevin in the act". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  17. ^ excerpt of Tarragon Theatre production of The Year of Magical Thinking (video).
  18. ^ "The 42nd Annual Jeff Equity Awards Announced". The Joseph Jefferson Awards - Excellence In Chicago Theatre. Chicago. 2010. Retrieved May 23, 2024.
  19. ^ "The Year of Magical Thinking". Nimbus Theatre. Retrieved May 23, 2024.
  20. ^ Royce, Graydon (May 2, 2011). "A writer sifts the details of loss". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
  21. ^ a b "El Año del Pensamiento Mágico" [The Year of Magical Thinking]. Teatro Español y Naves del Español (in Spanish). Retrieved May 23, 2024.
  22. ^ "DE MAGISKE TANKERS ÅR". Den Nationale Scene (in Norwegian). Retrieved March 12, 2016.[dead link]
  23. ^ Bancroft, Colette (November 7, 2017). "Review: 'The Year of Magical Thinking' at Stageworks". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved May 23, 2024.
  24. ^ Howey, Christine (November 9, 2021). "Emotions Collide in 'The Year of Magical Thinking' at Cesear's Forum". Cleveland Scene.

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