From the acclaimed author of Skating to Antarctica comes a breathtakingly honest and original memoir about living with terminal cancer and her relationship with Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize-winning author who adopted her as a teenager
The future flashed before my eyes in all its pre-ordained banality. Embarrassment, at first, to the exclusion of all other feelings. But embarrassment curled at the edges with a weariness .
I got a joke in.
'So - we'd better get cooking the meth,' I said to the Poet.
In August 2014, Jenny Diski was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and given 'two or three years' to live. She didn't know how to react. All responses felt scripted, laden with clich.. Being a writer, she decided to write about it (grappling with the unoriginality even of this), and also to tell a story she has not yet told: that of being taken in, aged fifteen, by the author Doris Lessing, and the subsequent fifty years of their complex relationship.
In September 2014 Jenny Diski began writing in the London Review of Books, describing her experience of living with terminal cancer, examining her life and history with Doris Lessing: the fairy-tale rescue from 'the bin' as a teenager, the difficulties of being absorbed into an unfamiliar family and the influence this had on her. Swooping from one memory to the next - alighting on the hysterical battlefield of her parental home, her expulsion from school, stacking shelves in Banbury and the drug-taking twenty-something in and out of psychiatric hospitals, Diski paints a portrait of two extraordinary writers - Lessing and herself.
From one of our most original voices comes a book like no other: a cerebral, witty, dazzlingly candid masterpiece about an uneasy relationship; about memory and writing, ingratitude and anger; about living with illness and facing death.
About the Author
Jenny Diski was born in 1947 in London, where she lived most of her life. She is the author of ten novels, four books of travel and memoir, including Stranger on a Train and Skating to Antarctica, two volumes of essays and a collection of short stories. Her journalism has appeared in publications including the Mail on Sunday, the Observer and the London Review of Books, to which she has contributed more than two hundred articles over twenty five years. Jenny Diski lives in Cambridge with Ian Patterson, aka The Poet.
My favourite reading this year -- Blake Morrison
She deserves our unfeigned admiration, not for her bravery or her struggle, or any irrelevant tosh like that, but for writing so well * Guardian *
A marvel of steady and dispassionate self-revelation ... Bracingly devoid of sententiousness, sentimentality or any kind of spiritual urge or twitch * New York Times *
Intelligent, funny and challenging * Independent *
Involving, buoyant and, though-provoking * Observer *
Warm, witty, wryly provocative * The Times *
Superb, original and unsentimental writer * Guardian *
Few authors were better at combining the personal and political (or Twitter) than Jenny Diski. She is sorely missed, but at least she finished In Gratitude, her memoir about her time with Doris Lessing -- Juliet Jacques * Guardian *
The record Diski makes of her cancer and the proliferating side effects of her treatment is vivid, clear-eyed and sometimes funny ... What gives In Gratitude its power and brilliance are the dramas of her childhood, her teenage years with Doris Lessing, and the high-octane rage that leaves her with a fiercely introverted spirit ... She presents one of the clearest descriptions of a chaotic family I have ever read ... Original, sharp -- Terri Apter * Times Literary Supplement *
She is savagely good company * Daily Telegraph Summer Reads *
The late Jenny Diski's In Gratitude seemed to me an exertion of self-knowledge as taxing, precise and memorable as "Such, Such Were the Joys." The author is grateful and unforgiving (in hard-to-measure proportions) to the grown-ups who misshaped her early years. She remembers her adolescence with a miraculous fidelity of present to past feeling, but the view is from the outside too: she was a tough customer, a precocious pest, and lucky to get out alive. Accurate memory here resists every temptation of pride; and because she has no interest in charming the reader, Diski is equal to her great subject. Gratitude merely for services rendered can seem at best a servile virtue, yet ingratitude is the most unpardonable of vices. How to stay clear of both? These extraordinary fragments of autobiography tell us that the struggle never stops -- David Bromwich * Times Literary Supplement, 'Book of the Year' *
Diski was a spare, beautiful, economical writer ... It is the book of a born fighter that will last far beyond 2016' -- Ruth Scurr * Wall Street Journal Books of the Year *
In Gratitude works on many levels ... At its heart, though, is the story of a difficult relationship between women, both, as it happens, outstanding writers ... It's the story Diski most needed to tell * Guardian *
Fiercely elegant -- Jane Shilling * Daily Mail *
Devastating ... With her blunt honesty and ineradicable prickliness, she was, right up to the end, defiantly individual * Sunday Herald *