Review – Run, River

Run, River by Joan Didion
Published:Published April 26th 1994 by Vintage (first published 1963) 
Genre: Fiction, literature
Pages: 272


In october, Netflix released a documentary about Joan Didion titled “The center will not hold” directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne. In the documentary they talk about all of Didion’s books and I was reminded of my love for her books. I’ve read “The year of magical thinking” which may be the best book I have ever read, and “Blue Nights” which I found equally heartbreaking. Two for two are favorite books of mine, so I had to ask myself why I hadn’t read any of her other books.

In the documentary it is mentioned that “Run River” is her first book. Someone says “It was her first book, but not her best” which I found so funny and interesting.

I decided to work my way through all of Didion and naturally, I would start at the beginning, with her first book.


Then it instantly became hard. While I recognized her beautiful way of putting things, and enjoyed the lines that linger in the air long after you’ve read them and a mood that makes you want to grab a blanket to hide under, still I was bored. I was so bored in fact, that I picked up another book and read that instead. Then I came back and skimmed my way through and then forgot all about it. So the documentary was spot on for me, not her best book.

The book follows a marriage in California and paints a portrait of the place just as much as the people. A generation and a city I have no first hand knowledge of, the people and the place both fell a little flat to me. Murder, booze, marriage, booze etc. 

So how do you review a book that you didn’t particularly like, even though you love the author, adore her other books and still find beautiful lines within. Does any of it carry more weight?

To me this becomes a non-review. I can’t praise a book when I didn’t like the story and I can’t criticize the story when it’s told so beautifully.


Just to add some trivia – the working title of the book was “In the night season” but the American publisher didn’t like the title. The title became Run River and the English publisher then added the comma to make it “Run, River”. Joan Didion said in an interview that she didn’t like either.