Finalist for the NBCC Award for Criticism
'Nothing about Jenny Diski is conventional. Diski does not do linear, or normal, or boring ... highly intelligent, furiously funny' Sunday Times
'Funny, heartbreaking, insightful and wise' Emilia Clarke
'She expanded notions about what nonfiction, as an art form, could do and could be' New Yorker
Jenny Diski was a fearless writer, for whom no subject was too difficult, even her own cancer diagnosis. Her columns in the London Review of Books – selected here by her editor and friend Mary-Kay Wilmers, on subjects as various as death, motherhood, sexual politics and the joys of solitude – have been described as 'virtuoso performances', and 'small masterpieces'.
From Highgate Cemetery to the interior of a psychiatric hospital, from Tottenham Court Road to the icebergs of Antarctica, Why Didn't You Just Do What You Were Told? is a collective interrogation of the universal experience from a very particular psyche: original, opinionated – and mordantly funny.
This effortlessly readable posthumous essay collection from Diski (1947 2016) (In Gratitude) shows her at her best. In "A Feeling for Ice," she writes about her troubled childhood and her longing to visit Antarctica: "I wanted white and ice as far as the eye could see." "It Wasn't Him, It Was Her" explores the reputation of Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth, known primarily for having "corrupted Nietzsche's work." "He Could Afford It" investigates Howard Hughes's obsessive compulsions: "What made Hughes remarkable," she writes, is that "there was no practical reason for him to try to control his madness." In "I Haven't Been Nearly Mad Enough," she compares writer Barbara Taylor's memories of mental institutionalization with her own: in the midst of fear, both found a sense of community. Diski's works are varied and surprising, and she puts a fresh spin on the personal essay with her bracing, singular prose, never veering into self-indulgence: "One of the basic beliefs we all have... is that we are who we are because we know that by definition there can be only one of us. I'm Jenny Diski. You therefore aren't." To miss these essays would be a shame.