Review: Play It As It Lays

  • Title: Play It As It Lays
  • Author: Joan Didion
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1970
  • Synopsis: A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Play It as It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation, the ennui of contemporary society reflected in spare prose that blisters and haunts the reader. Set in a place beyond good and evil – literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul – it remains more than three decades after its original publication a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman and a society in crisis and stunning in the still-startling intensity of its prose.

This is my first time reading a book by Joan Didion. In recent months, her books have been everywhere on bookstagram, and with her recent passing I became curious of her work. Now, let me be honest, I’m not sure how to feel about this book. It has a resemblance to The Bell Jar due to the bleak depiction of the protagonist’s mental health, Maria Wyeth.

The book focuses on a stage in Maria’s life where she feels that nothing makes sense and we witness a decline and the forms of self-destruction which she seeks. Everything is exposed through loose fragments, in a minimalist way. These small scenes add up to a whole, where the reader must make the connections since it’s not explicit in the narration. At first glance there seems to be no message whatsoever, but it will depend on the interpretation you give it.

This book did not turn out to be very much of my liking because of my sensitivity to certain scenes. Some parts made me feel a bit sick, similar to the way The Bell Jar made me feel the first time I tried reading it. However, I managed to finish it because I did enjoy Joan Didion’s style, which I found unique. So regardless of my thoughts on this book, I plan on reading more by the author. 

*Trigger warning: suicide, domestic violence, abortion

Overall rating: 3 / 5


Review: The Japanese Lover

The Japanese Lover is a story about love, friendship, aging, and coming to terms with the past. It begins when a young woman named Irina Bazili starts working at Lark House, a retirement home for the elderly. There she meets the enigmatic Alma Belasco, a wealthy widow who has just arrived at Lark House. Unlike the rest of the elderly residents, Alma is empowered and independent.

As the story develops, so does the friendship between Irina, Alma, and Seth (Alma’s grandson). Both Irina and Seth become intrigued by Alma’s past, wondering about the mysterious letters and flowers she receives, and the secret getaways Alma goes to every now and then. As they dig for details in Alma’s past, they unravel the truth about the Japanese lover.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was an entertaining and quick read — specially the end which I didn’t see coming. The different timelines allow the reader to learn about Irina’s past as well as Alma’s. However, I felt it was too summarized. It was rather descriptive, the dialogue was a bit scarce, and there wasn’t much detail on the characters’ inner worlds. Let’s keep in mind that it was written by Isabel Allende, the mastermind behind The House Of Spirits. It’s the second book I read by her, unfortunately it did not meet my expectations.

I still look forward to reading more of her work, I’ve heard positive reviews on A Long Petal of the Sea. Have you read books by Isabel Allende? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!

Rating: 3.5 / 5