The Violet Hour

  • by Katie Roiphe
  • Narrated by Carolyn Cook
  • 7 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From one of our most perceptive and provocative voices comes a deeply researched account of the last days of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak, and James Salter - an arresting and wholly original meditation on mortality.
In The Violet Hour, Katie Roiphe takes an unexpected and liberating approach to the most unavoidable of subjects. She investigates the last days of six great thinkers, writers, and artists as they come to terms with the reality of approaching death, or what T. S. Eliot called "the evening hour that strives Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea".
Roiphe draws on her own extraordinary research and access to the family, friends, and caretakers of her subjects. Here is Susan Sontag, the consummate public intellectual, who finds her commitment to rational thinking tested during her third bout with cancer. Roiphe takes us to the hospital room where, after receiving the worst possible diagnosis, 76-year-old John Updike begins writing a poem. She vividly re-creates the fortnight of almost suicidal excess that culminated in Dylan Thomas' fatal collapse at the Chelsea Hotel. She gives us a bracing portrait of Sigmund Freud fleeing Nazi-occupied Vienna only to continue in his London exile the compulsive cigar smoking that he knows will hasten his decline. And she shows us how Maurice Sendak's beloved books for children are infused with his lifelong obsession with death, if you know where to look.
The Violet Hour is a book filled with intimate and surprising revelations. In the final acts of each of these creative geniuses are examples of courage, passion, self-delusion, pointless suffering, and superb devotion. There are also moments of sublime insight and understanding where the mind creates its own comfort. As the author writes, "If it's nearly impossible to capture the approach of death in words, who would have the most hope of doing it?" By bringing these great writers' final days to urgent, unsentimental life, Katie Roiphe helps us to look boldly in the face of death and be less afraid.


What the Critics Say

"A beautiful book.... The intensity of these passages - the depth of research, the acute sensitivity for declarative moments - is deeply beguiling." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Profound, poetic and - yes - comforting." (People)
"Unconventional, engaging.... [The Violet Hour] is at once scholarly, literary, juicy - and unabashedly personal." (Los Angeles Times)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Mixed feelings

I bought this book, appreciating that someone had decided to examine death in this way. I enjoyed learning about the lives of the people she interviewed. I guess I was a little disappointed at the end with her summation… Everything she learned from all of this work seem to come up a bit short for me.

I wasn't crazy about the narration. I think the narrator has a voice more suited to reading children's stories then something with this kind of gravitas
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- Laureen Miki


The Maurice Sendak chapter alone is worth the read. I was skeptical but this book is really more about how these folks lived than how the died. Loved it!
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- Kimberly Kotars

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-03-2016
  • Publisher: Audible Studios