Jenny Diski “was a writer for whom no subject was taboo”

enny Diski wrote candidly about her cancer diagnosis in her London Review of Books column. Photograph: Rex

enny Diski wrote candidly about her cancer diagnosis in her London Review of Books column. Photograph: Rex

Kate Kellaway writes:

Jenny Diski, who has died of cancer aged 68, was a writer for whom no subject was taboo. Her remarkable first novel, Nothing Natural (1986), about a sadomasochistic affair, was feted and damned in equal measure. It has a quality that persisted in all her work: a refusal to censor, a breezy determination to keep it real (whatever “it” turned out to be). She was the least deceived writer imaginable, and she was never complacent. She once said she wrote each new book out of a feeling that the one before had been a failure. She did not stop her zestful experimenting: 11 novels, two collections of short stories, memoirs, travelogues and essays. Each book was a new departure, but she is likely to be best remembered for her nonfiction.

In her idiosyncratic travelogue Stranger on a Train (2002), she intriguingly linked crossing the US by rail with escapist journeying in her youth on the Circle line of the London underground. In 2009, with The Sixties, she pulled off an unhackneyed account of the decade – sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and Aldermaston marches. But her memoir Skating to Antarctica (1997) is the most remarkable of her books. It stars her daughter, Chloe, who steers Diski into finding out what became of her mother, with whom relations had been severed for decades. The narrative alternates startlingly between a trip to the frozen south and this search – Diski’s reluctant advance towards catharsis.

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