“I’m a writer. I’ve got cancer. Am I going to write about it? How am I not? I pretended for a moment that I might not, but knew I had to, because writing is what I do and now cancer is what I do, too.”
So wrote Jenny Diski, who died on April 28 at the age of 68 after suffering from the illness for several years, an ordeal she recounts with grace and sometimes maudlin humor in her soon-to-be-published book In Gratitude, calling herself a “canceree.” She wrote of her illness in a series of diary posts in the London Review of Books, while Giles Harvey delivered a fine profile of her in the New York Times Magazine last spring.
Diski, well-known for her troubled relationship with Doris Lessing, wrote many other books, too, including novels such as After These Things and Monkey’s Uncle and memoirs such as The Sixties and Stranger on a Train. Writers and readers alike admired her, and encomia have been appearing in many publications since her death, among the most interesting of them Justin Smith’s in n+1.
The novelist and essayist Imre Kertész passed away in late April as well. Hungary’s only Nobel Prize in Literature winner, he was celebrated in a service in Budapest that drew hundreds of mourners. Imprisoned in Nazi camps during World War II, he revealed in his memoir Dossier K, he distanced himself from other writers on the subject of the Holocaust, a term he disliked. “I don’t know what the truth is. I don’t know whether it is my job to know what the truth is, in any case,” he wrote. Speakers at the service included Peter Esterházy, author of The Book of Hrabral, whose remarks were published (in German) in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and György Spiró, author of Captivity. Péter Nádas, author of Parallel Stories, was also in attendance.
On the matter of health, death, and dying, the winner of Britain’s Wellcome Book Prize was recently announced: Suzanne Sullivan’s It’s All in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness. The Wellcome carries a purse of £30,000 (or about $44,000) and celebrates “the best new books that engage with any aspect of medicine, health or illness.” Among other contenders were Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes, which we praised, and Sarah Moss’ novel Signs for Lost Children, which looks to be a book to read alongside Paul Harding’s Tinkers. The Other Press will publish Sullivan’s book in the U.S. in January 2017, though with a title that turns Sullivan’s surefooted diagnosis into a question: Is It All in Your Head? There’s a meaning in that difference, no doubt, but for the time being we’ll have to guess at what it might be.
Are you just hankering to be sued? Write about Scientology. It doesn’t matter who you are: just ask its leader’s father, Ron Miscavige, who is being enjoined not to publish a memoir, Ruthless, that is slated to appear this week in the U.K. and Ireland. Or ask Lawrence Wright, whose Going Clear has been, he says, the target of “innumerable” threats of legal action.
Clear is one thing, cloudy another. Write scientists Adam Wilson and Walter Jetz in the online journal PLoS, “Clouds may seem like distant, ephemeral features that have little to do with life on Earth. In fact, they affect everything from the viability of ecosystems, to how much carbon plants absorb, to the reproductive success of reptiles. So by mapping clouds, new research shows, scientists can indirectly map life.” Time to reread David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, the movie version of which earned the most recent of many jibes in the recent premier of the new season of the HBO series Silicon Valley. It’s good to see traditions building up like cloudbanks.Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.