Review: The Violet Hour by Katie Roiphe

Title: The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End
Author: Katie Roiphe
Pages: 320
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography Collection
Source: Free ARC from Random House

Rating: B-

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Random House in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Summary: The deaths and last moments of five great writers – Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas and Maurice Sendak – examined

Review: Non-fiction is not really my bailiwick, but a) I have a strong desire to change that and b) who could turn away from the subjects of death and famous writers? Not I, my friends, not I.

The prologue alone was worth reading this book. Roiphe explains how her own health issues as a child have resulted in a keen interest in death and how one approaches that great unknown. Her writing style is cerebral, yet I felt I got a good sense of her own feelings about each writer based on her approach to each of their stories.

Of all of the authors she covered, I enjoyed her pieces on Susan Sontag and Maurice Sendak the most. While I’m not yet familiar with Sontag’s work, she seems such a force to be reckoned with, someone who is difficult perhaps to know, but hard to stay away from. Roiphe’s depiction of her made me not just want to know her work, but need to. What amazing things could a person of that magnitude write? I. Must. Know.

Maurice Sendak, of course, I know well enough. As a child of the 70’s, how could I not? I’ve burned through more copies of Where the Wild Things Are than I can count, all of them falling to pieces from repeated readings to my children. Yet, I knew little about the author himself. I was surprised to find myself tearing up as I read through his section. There is so much in him that I identify with, and in her treatment of his story, it is clear the author felt that same connection.

All of the accounts of these writers passing on were poignant and thoughtful, as well as thought-provoking. The subject of death is one that is not often discussed, but very often thought about (though perhaps not directly or consciously). I really enjoyed Roiphe’s exploration of each writer’s individual experience of death, and I especially enjoyed her writing style.

Yes, I think it is a book well worth reading.


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