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The Violet Hour: Book summary and reviews of The Violet Hour by Katie Roiphe

The Violet Hour

Great Writers at the End

by Katie Roiphe

The Violet Hour by Katie Roiphe X
The Violet Hour by Katie Roiphe
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  • Published Mar 2016
    320 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

From one of our most perceptive and provocative voices comes a deeply researched account of the last days of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, and Maurice Sendak - an arresting and wholly original meditation on mortality.

In The Violet Hour, Katie Roiphe takes an unexpected and liberating approach to the most unavoidable of subjects. She investigates the last days of five great thinkers, writers, and artists as they come to terms with the reality of approaching death, or what T. S. Eliot called "the evening hour that strives Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea."

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. And 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.

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Never overly sentimental, this is a poignant and elegant inquiry into mortality." - Kirkus

"Roiphe's riveting profiles reveal a simple truth: each person faces death in a unique way." - Publishers Weekly

This information about The Violet Hour was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Katie Roiphe

Katie Roiphe is the author of several books, including The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism; Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages; In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays; and a novel, Still She Haunts Me. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Harper's, Vogue, Esquire, Slate, and Tin House. She has a Ph.D. in literature from Princeton University and is the director of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University. She lives in Brooklyn.

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