[Diski's] reputation as an original, witty and cant-free thinker on the way we live now should be given a significant boost. Her prose is elegant and amused, as if to counter her native melancholia and includes frequent dips into memorable images ... Like the ideal artist Henry James conjured up, on whom nothing is lost, Diski notices everything that comes her way ... She is discerning about serious topics (madness and death) as well as less fraught material, such as fashion ... in truth Diski’s first-person voice is like no other, selectively intimate but not overbearingly egotistic, like, say, Norman Mailer’s. It bears some resemblance to Joan Didion’s, if Didion were less skittish and insistently stylish and generated more warmth. What they have in common is their innate skepticism and the way they ask questions that wouldn’t occur to anyone else ... Suffice it to say that our culture, enmeshed as it is in carefully arranged snapshots of real life, needs Jenny Diski, who, by her own admission, 'never owned a camera, never taken one on holiday.'” It is all but impossible not to warm up to a writer who observes herself so keenly ... I, in turn, wish there were more people around who thought like Diski. The world would be a more generous, less shallow and infinitely more intriguing place.
Jenny Diski...writes a lot about death, and a reader is grateful for her humor. Whereas Galgut’s clarity of vision can seem sometimes almost unworldly, Diski is nothing if not parti pris. Everything in her delicious essays is filtered, unabashedly, through her particularly sharp, uncompromising consciousness ... Diski takes an almost triumphantly dissatisfied, even irascible, approach ... As the anthology shows, though, Diski could make almost anything seem interesting.
The volume is introduced by the LRB’s editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, who gave her the freedom to roam and suggested many of the subjects, and ends with an afterword by Diski’s daughter Chloe, who observes (as Wilmers does) that all her writing was essentially personal ... This is not to say that they are lazy, self-indulgent or attention-seeking. They are hard worked and scrupulous and illuminating ... In her autobiographical writings Diski displays a gift for ruthless self-examination as well as a need to confront the unacceptable and explore the unknowable ... The book reviews also tell us a good deal about Diski, and one of the things they tell us is that she was attracted to the 'dangerous edge of things' ... the real substance of the volume lies in the well-researched essays on complex but minor figures such as Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth, George Orwell’s second wife Sonia, and Sigmund Freud’s wife Martha ... What it is to be Jewish is one of the undercurrents in much of Diski’s writing, and inspired two of her more eccentric LRB essays, both very entertaining, studded with bits of interesting and eclectic information ... This wide-ranging collection is a tribute to her, and to her friend and editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, who brought out the best in her. Many writers envied the space that Wilmers gave her, but few could have made such good use of it.