In Gratitude collects like metal filings around these two magnetic points — the functional end of Diski’s life as a writer, and the functional beginning of it, due to [Doris] Lessing’s 'rush into kindness' and mentorship ... Diski is not condemning Lessing for her behavior. She is seeking, in these final moments of her own life, the fullest possible understanding of a woman who represented, despite her prickliness and remove, the closest thing she had to a family. Diski courageously and persistently speaks what many might deem unspeakable ... Diski proves again and again her spectacular originality in her ability to empathize with as well as profess a total failure to comprehend the mind of another human being. These pages are evidence of her undiminished aptitude, even while her body was on the wane, to vigorously inhabit and investigate emotional spaces that shift and change shape as her sentences accrue ... Diski’s final book proves transcendently disobedient, the most existence-affirming and iconoclastic defense a writer could mount against her own extinction.
The cliche goes that at the moment of death all our life passes in front of us. Rarely can a book so effectively have dramatised that idea. Diski wondered towards the end whether art was always a product of pain; she was defiantly unconvinced. Though she shared much of Lessing’s blunt distrust of sentiment, throughout this book she can’t help finding at least as much comfort in her own roles of mother and of grandmother and of wife (to 'The Poet' Ian Patterson) as much as 'writer.' Despite her unvarnished fear of 'dissolution, of casting my particles to the wind,' and at the 'insoluble grief' of not seeing her grandchildren grow up, there is, still, a triumphant note to her fast unspooling history. As the scenes of her traumatic and chaotic childhood pass by she reminds us, sentence by sentence, not only that she emerged to become every bit the writer she always dreamed of being, but also that, despite everything, along the way she learned a great deal about love.
With In Gratitude, she has written a different kind of cancer memoir, and an almost entirely platitude-free one, simply by writing a typically sui-generis Jenny Diski book. Which is to say, a book that pushes in five or six directions at once...There’s a raw, almost feral quality to Ms. Diski’s writing about cowering in Lessing’s long shadow. It’s a trait she brought to so much of her writing. It’s just like her to leave us a title, In Gratitude, that slowly sheds its softness and sends up a mischievous flare.