Blue Nights

Blue Nights

by Joan Didion


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A New York Times Notable Book and National Bestseller

From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter.

Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness and growing old.

As she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent, Didion grapples with the candid questions that all parents face, and contemplates her age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept. Blue Nights—the long, light evening hours that signal the summer solstice, “the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning”—like The Year of Magical Thinking before it, is an iconic book of incisive and electric honesty, haunting and profound.

"Incantory....A beautiful condolance note to humanity about some of the painful realities of the human condition." —The Washington Post


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307387387
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/29/2012
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 78,136
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, California, and now lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and eight previous books of nonfiction. Her collected nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, was published by Everyman's Library in 2006.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

December 5, 1934

Place of Birth:

Sacramento, California


B.A., University of California at Berkeley, 1956

Read an Excerpt

In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue. This period of the blue nights does not occur in subtropical California, where I lived for much of the time I will be talking about here and where the end of daylight is fast and lost in the blaze of the dropping sun, but it does occur in New York, where I now live. You notice it first as April ends and May begins, a change in the season, not exactly a warming—in fact not at all a warming—yet suddenly summer seems near, a possibility, even a promise. You pass a window, you walk to Central Park, you find yourself swimming in the color blue: the actual light is blue, and over the course of an hour or so this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades, approximates finally the blue of the glass on a clear day at Chartres, or that of the Cerenkov radiation thrown off by the fuel rods in the pools of nuclear reactors. The French called this time of day “l’heure bleue.” To the English it was “the gloaming.” The very word “gloaming” reverberates, echoes— the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour—carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows. During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone. This book is called “Blue Nights” because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness.

Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Incantatory.... A beautiful condolence note to humanity about some of the painful realities of the human condition.” —The Washington Post
“Heartbreaking.... A searing inquiry into loss and a melancholy mediation on mortality and time.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Joan Didion is a brilliant observer, a powerful thinker, a writer whose work has been central to the times in which she has lived. Blue Nights continues her legacy.” —The Boston Globe

“Exemplary...provocative.... [Didion] comes fully to realize, and to face squarely, the dismaying fact that against life’s worst onslaughts nothing avails, not even art; especially not art.” —John Banville, The New York Times Book Review
“A beautiful, soaring, polyphonic eulogy.... What appears on the surface to be an elegantly, intelligently, deeply felt, precisely written story of the loss of a beloved child is actually an elegantly, intelligently, deeply felt, precisely written glimpse into the abyss, a book that forces us to understand, to admit, that there can be no preparation for tragedy, no protection from it, and so, finally, no consolation.” —The New York Review of Books
“Profoundly moving.... This is first and last a meditation on mortality.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Ms. Didion has translated the sad hum of her thoughts into a profound meditation on mortality. The result aches with a wisdom that feels dreadfully earned.” —The Economist
“For the great many of us who cherish Joan Didion, who can never get enough of her voice and her brilliant, fragile, endearing, pitiless persona, [Blue Nights] is a gift.” —Newsday
“Exquisite.... She applies the same rigorous standards of research and meticulous observation to her own life that she expects from herself in journalism. And to get down to the art of what she does, her sense of form is as sharp as a glass-cutter’s, and her sentences fold back on themselves and come out singing in a way that other writers can only wonder at and envy.” —The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Ms. Didion has created something luminous amid her self-recrimination and sorrow. It’s her final gift to her daughter—one that only she could give.” —Wall Street Journal
“Didion’s bravest work. It is a bittersweet look back at what she’s lost, and an unflinching assessment of what she has left.” —BookPage
“Yes, this is a book about aging and about loss. Mostly, though, it is about what one parent and child shared—and what all parents and children share, the intimacy of what bring you closer and what splits you apart.” —
“Haunting.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Breathtaking.... With harrowing honesty and mesmerizing style, Didion chronicles the tragic death of her daughter, Quintana, interwoven with memories of their happier days together and Didion’s own meditations on aging.” —Newsweek
“Darkly riveting.... The cumulative effect of watching her finger her recollections like beads on a rosary is unexpectedly instructive. None of us can escape death, but Blue Nights shows how Didion has, with the devastating force of her penetrating mind, learned to simply abide.” —Elle
“In this supremely tender work of memory, Didion is paradoxically insistent that as long as one person is condemned to remember, there can still be pain and loss and anguish.” —Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair

“Didion’s latest memoir unflinchingly reflects on old age and the tragedy of her daughter’s death.”
—Best New Paperbacks, Entertainment Weekly

Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance and inform your group’s discussion of Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, a heart-wrenching book about the death of her daughter Quintana Roo.

1. Blue Nights is a deeply elegiac, heartrending book. What are some of its most emotionally powerful moments? What makes these moments so moving?

2. Didion’s style in Blue Nights is clipped, austere, emotionally restrained. What is the effect of the short sentences, short chapters, and paragraphs that often consist of a single sentence? In what ways is Didion’s tone and style appropriate to her subject?

3. A number of italicized statements recur throughout Blue Nights, consisting most often of things that Quintana said—“Let me just be in the ground”; “Like when someone dies, don’t dwell on it”; “After I became five, I never ever dreamed about him.” What is the emotional effect of these repetitions? Why would Didion keep repeating these lines? 

4. Didion writes: “My cognitive confidence seems to have vanished altogether. Even the correct stance for telling you this, the ways to describe what is happening to me, the attitude, the tone, the very words, now elude my grasp. The tone needs to be direct. I need to talk to you directly, I need to address the subject as it were, but something stops me.... Am I no longer able to talk directly?” [p. 116]. Is the tone of Blue Nights direct or indirect? Why might Didion find it difficult to be as direct as she wants to be about her subject?

5. Didion quotes Euripides: “What greater grief can there be for mortals than to see their children dead” [p. 13]. In what ways does Blue Nights bear out this truth? Of all the griefs that humans might be forced to endure why is this the most painful?

6. What kind of child was Quintana? What was most remarkable about her and most painful about her loss?

7. Thinking back to Quintana’s wedding, Didion writes: “I still see from that wedding day at St. John the Divine: the bright red soles on her shoes. She was wearing Christian Louboutin shoes, pale satin with bright red soles. You saw the red soles when she kneeled at the altar” [p. 69]. What is the effect, on Didion and on the reader, of these minute but vividly remembered details? What other details seem especially poignant?

8. Didion says she knows very few people who think of themselves as having succeeded as parents, that most parents instead “recite rosaries of failures, our neglects, our derelictions and delinquencies” [p. 93]. What does Didion most regret about her relationship with Quintana? What does she see as her failures?

9. Why might Quintana have seen her mother as “frail,” as needing her care, rather than the reverse? [p. 101].

10. Didion says that she had initially wanted to write a book about children but that after she started it became clear her true subject was “the failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, death” [p. 54]. What does the book say about these essential human themes? Does Didion fail to confront them?

11. Blue Nights is filled with digressions—about movie shoots, changes in parenting styles over the past fifty years, her own work in the theatre, Sophia Loren, etc.—but keeps circling back to the death of her daughter and to her own illness and aging. Why might Didion have chosen this kind of structure, rather than a more straightforward chronological approach?

12. Didion describes her own illnesses and medical emergencies in a remarkably matter-of-fact way. Why is this understated approach more powerful than a more dramatic rendering might be?

13. What is so powerful about Didion’s quandary over who to list as an emergency contact on a medical form? What reveries does this question lead to?

14. Why does Didion end the book with a series of single, short sentences? Does she achieve here the kind of emotional directness she earlier felt was beyond her?

Customer Reviews

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Blue Nights 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I first started reading this book, I was a little put off by the overly wordy or sometimes incomplete sentences. But I stuck with it and am so happy I did. This book is beautiful, compassionate, and wise and touched my heart in many ways. I actually felt like the author was writing the book for me. It is a gift to anyone who has suffered loss.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While somewhat similar in tone to "The Year of Magical Thinking", this book felt much more stream-of-consciousness, much more disjointed in places. Still, the magic of Didion's writing and insights shine through, even when it is somewhat muddled. Far from linear, it jumps back and forth in time, sometimes repeating stories, just in a slightly different context or at a slightly different angle. It's hard to tell if the somewhat disjointed nature of this book is the result of a mother's grief, Didion's advancing age, or a combination of the two. Still, as I said, the magic of her writing shines through. I definitely recommend the book - just don't expect a straight point A to point Z narrative
vickytren More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of self-help, psychological and true stories books, so I was interested to give blue nights a try and was not disappointed. Great Read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read The Year of Magical Thinking five times. I just finished Blue Nights. It was amazing. Didion's commentary on her grief over poor Quintana's passing and her commentary on aging are genuine and forthright. I cannot imagine having the strength to face what she faced in such a short time. Yet she faces her struggles honestly and head on. I hope I have her courage and sense of self when and if I make it to 76 or 77.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Blue Nights" starts out promising, but by chapter two it reads like a diary-turned-novel. Too many question marks, which makes the tone unnecessarily shrill. I hate to say it (because it feels disrespectful to the memory of Ms. Didion's husband and daughter), but the writing is boring. Definitely do not recommend.
ElaineJK More than 1 year ago
This was a quick read because it had such continuity that I didn't want to put it down. She shares the emotions and thoughts that most of us have when losing those close to us. Sadness without bitterness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt she was conversing with me at lunch. It left me wishing she were my friend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
poor sentence structure. Bounces around. It was difficult to finish.
shazjhb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sad book. I did want to know the reason for the death but I suppose it was a book about a life and that of a mother.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It seems so crass to criticize her two memoirs, when they're so brutally honest and must have been so difficult to write. And I feel better that I did like this better than The Year of Magical Thinking - it seemed more reflective, more integrated, more psychologically processed. But I still have problems with her discursive writing, and most especially the name dropping.
sharlene_w on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of those books I plodded through and then asked myself wny. While it was probably cathartic for the author to write about her feelings about losing her husband and daughter as well as her own health issues, I didn't find anything of significance for myself in this book. A bit of self indulgance on the author's part.
peajayar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book in two hours. Large print, many short sentences and paragraphs, much repetition. Deliberate, not careless repetition, that is emotionally powerful. Blue Nights is more about Didion's own aging and her response to that and to the death of her daughter, than it is about her daughter. Whatever is the opposite of sentimental, this book is that. Didion identifies what she sees at writing as lack of attention to aspects of her daughter. She doesn't want mementoes, she wants real, strong memories. I liked Blue Nights. I have had an adult daughter die, and I am dealing with the decripitudes of aging. This does not mean I think Didion and I are in any way similar, but it does mean that I appreciate her front-on approach to both.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book, but not as much as I like The Year of Magical Thinking. Still there were some very powerful moments. Not only was Ms. Didion writing about the loss of her daughter, she was writing about your own morality.
mckall08 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you can get by the her depression after losing a child, failing health, and portens of aging, you can tease out the expected Didionesque incisive analysis of her situation.
oddbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For whatever reason, this book did not work as well as Didion's wonderful The Year of Magical Thinking. There is an element of repetition in Blue Nights that did not portray the emotional and mental confusion of a woman who has lost her daughter. Rather, the repetition of the stories of how Didion came to adopt Quintana Roo and Quintana's later obsession with those details seems cloying, almost dull in their insistence on reliving the same emotion over and over even when it did not seem to matter in terms of what she was writing.One of the biggest and most oft-levied criticisms of Joan Didion is how self-indulgent she is in terms of writing and some even extrapolate it into her own life (asking how self-indulgent one must be to name a child Quintana Roo). I never bought into that criticism that much because all autobiographical writing is self-indulgent to a point. But in this book I could see the accusation had some legs because as I read, I felt as if Quintana was a prop, not a person in her own right. Of course the book is Didion's reaction to her daughter dying, not her daughter's biography, but even taking that into account, in a book of how Didion reacted to her child's death, her child seemed filmy and far away. A person whose life only mattered because of how Didion reacted to her death.One cannot condemn Didion for this - a book about grief has its own rules, I suspect. But it was a flat, tiring experience reading this book.
Laura400 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joan Didion is one of my favorite writers, and I think this may be one of her best books. It's a meditation on loss and aging. It's a heartbreaking story, beautifully told. It's personal, but universal.As usual, Didion comes across as fearless and lacerating, in her sentiments and her sentences. But this short book also has a hypnotic aspect, with haunting repetitions that mirror the mind's process of circling around and back to memories.Because the book is about how we attempt to make sense of things. Here, love and pain. Motherhood. A beloved daughter. Loss. But Didion often, perhaps always, writes about the way we try to tell our stories. How we weave selected events into a narrative structure, to make things make sense. Our lives, our friends' lives, our culture. I think of "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream" and many other Didion masterpieces. As she said, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." This is one of those stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just excellent
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She did not get to the point of how her daughter died. She did a lot of name dropping of famous people she knew and hung around but they did not seem to offer any support after her daughter died.
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