Author(s): Katie Roiphe
In The Violet Hour, Katie Roiphe takes an unexpected and liberating approach to the most unavoidable of subjects. She investigates the last days of six great thinkers, writers and artists as they come to terms with the reality of approaching death. Roiphe draws on her own extraordinary research and access to the family, friends and caretakers of her subjects. Here is Susan Sontag, the consummate public intellectual, who finds her commitment to rational thinking tested during her third bout with cancer. Roiphe takes us to the hospital room where, after receiving the worst possible diagnosis, seventy-six-year-old John Updike begins writing a poem. She vividly re-creates the fortnight of almost suicidal excess that culminated in Dylan Thomas's fatal collapse on the floor of a Greenwich Village tavern. She gives us a bracing portrait of Sigmund Freud fleeing Nazi-occupied Vienna only to continue in his London exile the compulsive cigar smoking that he knows will hasten his decline. She shows us how Maurice Sendak's beloved books for children are infused with his lifelong obsession with death, if you know where to look. And from James Salter she learns that 'we make our own comfort.' The Violet Hour is a book filled with intimate and surprising revelations. In the final acts of each of these creative geniuses are examples of courage, passion, self-delusion, pointless suffering and superb devotion. There are also moments of sublime insight and understanding where the mind creates its own comfort. As the author writes, 'If it's nearly impossible to capture the approach of death in words, who would have the most hope of doing it?' By bringing these great writers' final days to urgent, unsentimental life, Katie Roiphe helps us to look boldly in the face of death and be less afraid.
In this elegant and beautifully written set of elegies, Katie Roiphe looks death squarely in the face, describing how people evanesce, how others lose them, how they lose themselves, how writing is a means to negotiate for immortality. This courageous, generous, intimate book is suffused with affection, and therefore provides comfort even when its topic is the loneliness that inheres in finality -- Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree [A] beautiful and haunting work. Never overly sentimental, this is a poignant and elegant inquiry into mortality Kirkus Elegant ... courageous, generous, intimate -- Andrew Solomon author of Far from the Tree The Violet Hour is a revelation, at least to me. Her case studies-of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, Dylan Thomas, John Updike, and Maurice Sendak - focus on the last months of life, using each writer's final struggle as a key to his or her character. This is the best book Roiphe has written. She shows that our interest in dying is not just an interest in endings, or in final things, or in posterity. Instead, it has to do with how we get along, how families and friendship work, in short, how we live -- Lorin Stein Paris Review
Katie Roiphe is an important voice in non-fiction. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Esquire, Harper's and The New Yorker. She has also written widely for the UK press.