Every now and then I walk into my bookstore and search for something new. The Violet Hour triggered me, even though I had never heard of Katie Roiphe before. She is an American author and journalist who has written about date rape at US campuses in The morning after and about writers and marriage in Uncommon Arrangements.
In The Violet Hour she writes about the last weeks and days of famous people: Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, Dylan Thomas, John Updike, Maurice Sendak and – as an epilogue, because he hadn't died yet –
For the six essays – elegies, really - she talked and corresponded with friends, partners, children of the deceased and formed a powerful picture of the writer, artist in his last hours. You could say they all died as they lived. Sonntag was an experienced fighter of cancer, she had won the battle twice already and was certain up to the last moment that she would win this bout with cancer as well. Freud pretended not to care, but he did. Refused painkillers to keep his head clear. And Thomas rushed with incredible fervor into his death, drunk on writing he died drunk on drink. In the Chelsea Hotel. He hadn't turned 40 yet.
Updike started writing poems again when he heard the verdict. Sendak had been dealing with death in his work all his life. Salter was resigned, but still alive when Roiphe interviewed him. He died before the book came out.
Roiphin looks at the artists' lives and works and lays bare their sometimes strained relations with their children, spouses, assistants who now lift some of the veils. On every page there is a new insight, a detail previously overlooked and it is clear that Roiphe is a good listener who finds meaning in what is said as much as in it what is not said.
It's a wonderful, engrossing read. Andrew Solomon on the back cover said it well: “Elegant... courageous, generous, intimate.”
Ook in het Nederlands verkrijgbaar: Het uur van het violet / Hollands Diep / € 19,99