Book review: The Violet Hour: Great Writers At The End

AMERICAN academic Katie Roiphe has a track record of tackling tricky subjects, such as pay inequality and sexual politics. 

Katie Roiphe

Virago, 16.99;

ebook, £8.99

Here, she turns her attention to what is probably the biggest taboo — death.

Following much research, she uncovers how six famous writers and artists dealt with knowing they were just days away from their own demise. 

Roiphe says she deliberately chose subjects “especially sensitive or attuned to death” and “madly articulate”.

We learn how Dylan Thomas doubled his debauchery in the days leading to his death, including cheating on his mistress with another woman.

John Updike began to write a poem on learning his days were numbered, while, despite being in terrible pain, Sigmund Freud refused anything stronger than aspirin so he could think clearly.

Subtle and with no mawkishness, this book reminds us that the story of death is “intimate, scary, huge”.


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