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In Gratitude

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  547 ratings  ·  92 reviews
The future flashed before my eyes in all its pre-ordained banality. Embarrassment, at first, to the exclusion of all other feelings. But embarrassment curled at the edges with a weariness …
I got a joke in.
“So – we'd better get cooking the meth,” I said to the Poet.

In July 2014, Jenny Diski was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and given “two or three years” to live. S
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 17th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA (first published April 21st 2016)
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Jenny Diski was a writer who lived a painfully wild life in the 60s, replete with drugs and mental illness. In the teens, she was "rescued" by author Doris Lessing, who, sight unseen, welcomed her into her home. But the "rescue" brought its own complications...

In Gratitude includes the fascinating details of Diski's relationship with Doris Lessing (and author I admire greatly and who, in some ways, shaped my life in the 1970s). This story is alternated with Diski's recounting of her life with ca
May 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In gratitude to Jenny Diski.

"Where am I going? Nobody knows. Can I come with you? Aye, bye and bye. There is a kind of excitement. This, that I've never done, already done, but previously, in a different form, an absolute otherness, nothingness, knowingnessless. That everyone has done, will do, world without end. The ending, and the world going on, going about its daily business. A world without me. To have known but not have any apparatus to know with. The excitement of a newness that is as old
Vicky "phenkos"
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the part of the book that told the story of Jenny's time with Doris Lessing, not so much the part that dealt with her cancer and fibrosis. I don't know why that is -- maybe because it was too scary/too close to home? It's not too close to home -- nobody has cancer at our household -- but I've been thinking about death lately and, like Jenny, I refuse to believe in any kind of afterlife. But if this is the case (and I have no doubt that it is), the question of death, of the inevitable not ...more
May 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In this incredibly intimate memoir the late British author Jenny Diski (1947-2016) diagnosed with lung cancer and complications from pulmonary fibrosis, recalled the dark complexities of end of life stages with a fierce determination to preserve her dignity. In addition, Diski wrote about unstable chaotic upbringing, and her life in connection with mentor British literary icon Doris Lessing (1919-2013).

In the opening of the book Diski wrote disapprovingly of cancer clichés, bucket lists and her
Liz Gray
Aug 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I rarely consider a book five-star-worthy, but Jenny Diski's latest (and last) book deserves all five. It took me over a hundred pages to get hooked, but once I did, I couldn't stop. Diski writes honestly about hard subjects--depression, mental illness, childhood abandonment, her fraught relationship with Doris Lessing, and her own imminent demise--but with a sharp wit and in an almost conversational style. Her contemplation of death I found especially moving; she poses the unanswerable question ...more
I appreciated (liked isn't quite the right word) the previous Diski books I'd read, so decided to try this one, her final work. First third, a memoir of her childhood didn't interest me much. Second part, set in present day focusing on her medical issues, and her feelings about that, were the Diski I was reading it for. Final section was a mix of that and memoir, so a mixed bag. Overall, my feelings mirrored those of Eat, Pray, Love (boring, interesting, a bit of both).

In terms of her childhood
May 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I think I'm in love with Jenny Diski. This book is fascinating, disjointed, admirable.... It's a sad book to read in the wake of her death last week, but I have so much respect for how she processes and writes about her experiences with cancer and Doris Lessing. ...more
Sue Russell
May 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An important book in my life, but withholding comments for now because I want to write about it and other things.
Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
"• writing and being a writer was the only way I could think of to be, the only way to balance the down side of the seesaw.
• It’s absurd to complain about the uncertainty of life expectancy – we’re all just a breath away from the end of our lives
• I could put on a performance that seemed good enough to convince most people. The problem was that I had no idea what this ‘normal’ was that I was supposed to achieve.
• we know our planet is part of our universe, but there remain gaping holes of incomp
Jun 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Diski grapples with her cancer and with her formative years living with Doris Lessing, her "benefactor." Three of Lessing's books have characters inspired by Diski, most notably Memoirs of a Survivor (which is one of my least favorite by Lessing), but also the excellent Briefing for a Descent into Hell, and The Sweetest Dream. People, including Lessing, often perceived Diski to be ungrateful for the chance to live with the famed writer, hence the title.

In addition to learning about Lessing in h
Jul 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Bravo Jenny Diski. As far as deathbed memoirs go, this will be one to top. I don't think she would have minded me saying so. Her writing is exquisite and always fresh and indeed writing is one of the main themes of this extraordinary memoir. As a former Doris Lessing obsessive, the portrait of her here was so compelling and vivid I could almost smell the house the two of them knocked about in, sometimes joined by Doris' son Peter, the most tragic figure of them all. But the person I enjoyed read ...more
Barbara Klein
Jul 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I just recently discovered Diski. She's a fabulous, honest writer. This book describes her time living with Doris Lessing and also goes into detail about Diski's deteriorating health. She addresses headon the various indignities and awful ordinariness of her life as a cancer patient. What its like to receive radiation, etc. She's honest, tough, unsentimental. Want to read everything this woman has written. ...more
Maria Menozzi
Jun 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Honestly never heard of Diski before reading her essays from The Guardian in a NYT Book Review section in 2014 about her cancer diagnosis. Along with Oliver Sachs and a few others who published essays about their eventual demise from cancer in NYT, I found her essays frank, fresh and reflective without being solipsistic or obtuse. I wondered why I had never heard of Diski before this or why more of her work had not crossed the Atlantic from the UK. Picking up the NYT Book Review last Sunday was ...more
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book is cleverly named In Gratitude, but it's theme is really ingratitude. Read other Goodread reviews which were glowing, but I found the memoir to be depressing and annoying, even though I liked her feisty spirit. First section is about her unfortunate relationship with Doris Lessing although she seemed to have learned a lot from Doris in terms of Lessing's dispassionate and analytical writing style. Second portion is about dealing with cancer which I ultimately skipped over after reading ...more
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'll preface this by saying I won this book in a goodreads giveaway but this review is entirely my own.

When I discovered this book I had never heard of Jenny Diski nor have I ever read any of her other works. What I found is that her writing is incredibly pleasing to me.

It is so truthful and she doesn't work to please others with the comprehension of her life - currently and in the past.

Although she almost dubs this a "cancer memoir" I feel that this is more of a diary, a mash of thoughts she
Michael Webb
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Marvelous. Highly recommended.
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"A year's treatment gives me between one and two years. And still I only feel deprived of not watching the grandchildren, two of them now, become their own people. For now, they remain delightful, a special medicine whose main side-effects is a painful sadness, of time. For the rest, apart from occasional terror of extinction, it seems reasonable enough, if the contented coma I've been promised actually happens. The terror is not, of course, occasional and contentment doesn't come into it. Where ...more
Joan Colby
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
. I have admired Jenny Diski’s essays for years. This memoir includes excerpts from the cancer journal she began publishing in the London Review of Books after her diagnosis. The first and last sections of In Gratitude cover Diski’s youth and the years she spent as a ward of Doris Lessing, a situation that had a powerful psychological effect on an already damaged teenager. The center section detailing her experiences with treatment for terminal lung cancer and meditations on loss of existence sh ...more
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: death-books, memoirs
Fascinating story -- not the book you would expect from the title.
Two intertwined parts: record of Diski's experience (she hates the use of the word battle) with lung cancer/ memoir of her years as the ward of Doris Lessing. (Lessing does not come across as a particularly nice person -- not much of a surprise there!)
This book is both amazingly honest and surprisingly opaque. Diski's plain language is twisted into syntax so counterintuitive that meaning seems to fall away. This makes total sense
Tomson Jane Oliver
Such a powerfully written memoir of life lived in open rebelion against so many significant people and forces in her life. A wild thing, she was called. One of my favorite passages:

"Well here I am at last. Comfy, with friends, not alone. Only I didn’t know anyone’s name, or who they were. But perhaps that didn’t matter either. That was when Doris crossed me off her Christmas list. Or thereabouts. Wild, dangerous, a woman with an active uterus that might do anything, and drugs as well. Hopeless.
Patti K
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs-auto-bio
This memoir's essays contain bold, raw, provocative and unsentimental
portrayals of the author's past and her present preoccupation with cancer.
The book deals with the formative years she spent living with Doris Lessing
from age 15 to 19 and encouraged her wish to become a writer. Diski's book
was published on April 21, 2016 and she died on April 28. This is much more
than a cancer diary and is an excellent piece of work.
Karen Ross
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Non one escapes cancer these days, we have it, we know someone who does, we have people leave our lives, provide inspiration, fight for their lives, recover.

This book pulls no punches, I knew little of Diski and started out of interest, her beliefs are so different from mine. They challenge the reader and our view of living and death.

Jul 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
How do you thank her? This book is about a writer's life, about cancer and death, and about the life of an artist. It is funny, sad, absurd, disturbing and profound. I will miss this book and the person who wrote it. ...more
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
To be rescued from peril completely and splendidly is only fabulous at the exact moment of rescue. What comes after is feeling limitlessly beholden to your rescuer and inadequate as an object worthy of such heroism. And of course resentment towards your rescuer for putting you in such a position. Especially if your rescuer is a Nobel-prize winning novelist: not just your rescuer but the authoritative narrator of the rescue itself.

Having been lifted out of a desperate childhood by the largesse o
Erika Nerdypants
This was my first ‘cancer memoir’ as Jenny Diski liked to call them when she was alive.

In Gratitude, is in equal parts unsettling and engaging. I couldn’t stop reading, though I have to admit at times I wanted to. Mostly that’s due to my stuff as they say, by which I mean my mother’s death from lung cancer 3 years ago. I remember as a small precocious child reading about cancer in one of my mother’s women’s magazines, and instantly being stricken with terror. Cancer could happen to my mother. O
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reading your way through the NYT list of best books for 2016 means that no matter what, you will spend your time in the company of someone who knows how to write, and how to write well. Once again I was not let down. But, major portions of this series of musings did not work for me. First, this is a compilation of thoughts without a clear beginning or end, other than her thoughts about highly selected segments of her life. And since I have not followed Ms. Diski's life, or read her other publica ...more
Sally Edsall
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Jenny Diski died in April 2016 of lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis.

She was a fabulous writer.

This volume is a version of the last essays she wrote for the London Review of Books, between her diagnosis in Sep 2014 & towards the end.

It is in parts a meditation / diary on the process of dying and cancer treatments. And the bulk of it is the untold story of her relationship with Nobel Prize winning author Doris Lessing, who took Diski (or Jenny Simmons as she was then) in as a 15 year old from
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: friends and those interested in writers
A potent read as Jenni Diski died of cancer recently and this was a memoir. I found it fascinating because Diski had such a disparate life. The most interesting part for me was her "adoption" by writer, Doris Lessing. They seem to have had a very odd relationship. Certanly not warm or close. There's a lot of resentfment, even bitterness, between them. Lessing is cool, concerned with her writing and literary friends. Diski wants to be a writer too but finds it difficult to be grateful for what sh ...more
I've had this book for seven months and the reason why I've been avoiding it for so long is, I knew it won't be easy. Parts of the text were published as separate essays in the London Review of Books, where I've read them already, but here, in one single volume, they hit hard. You keep reading as she tries to make sense of surviving and living, as she unravels, as her cancer progresses. She talks about her abusive parents, her being taken as a teenager in the house of Doris Lessing, living toget ...more
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Unusual memoir, part cancer diary/reflections, part autobiographical essays, raw, honest, and very readable. This is probably essential reading if you're interested in Doris Lessing, who took her in as a troubled teenager from a broken and dysfunctional background perhaps without fully thinking through the possible difficulties. The whole Peter Lessing story is very sad, and one wonders why he never got the help he so obviously needed (the implication is that Doris wouldn't allow it, and also th ...more
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Jenny Diski was a British writer. Diski was a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction articles, reviews and books. She was awarded the 2003 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking around America With Interruptions.

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Good and bad; from here to eternity, and from eternity to here. But I have been not here before, remember that. By which I mean that I have been here; I have already been at the destination towards which I’m now heading. I have already been absent, non-existent. Beckett and Nabokov know:

I too shall cease and be as when I was not yet, only all over instead of in store.

From an Abandoned Work

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.

Speak, Memory

This thought, this fact, is a genuine comfort, the only one that works, to calm me down when the panic comes. It brings me real solace in the terror of the infinite desert. It doesn’t resolve the question (though, as an atheist I don’t really have one), but it offers me familiarity with ‘The undiscovered country from whose bourn/No traveller returns’. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And it soothes. When I find myself trembling at the prospect of extinction, I can steady myself by thinking of the abyss that I have already experienced. Sometimes I can almost take a kindly, unhurried interest in my own extinction. The not-being that I have already been. I whisper it to myself, like a mantra, or a lullaby.

“In my experience, writing doesn’t get easier the more you do it. But there is a growth of confidence, not much, but a nugget, like a pearl, like a tumour. You learn that there is a process, and that it doesn’t very much matter what you write, but how you do it, that is crucial, and that nothing I wrote, or you wrote, is ever going to be the same as what she wrote and he wrote, unless, as Truman Capote said, what you’re dealing with isn’t writing, but typing. So I’ve got cancer. I’m writing.” 0 likes
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