The Dedalus Book of Literary Suicides, By Gary Lachman

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The Independent Culture

Yukio Mishima predicted his suicide in a short story and seems to have been genuinely in love with death. The Polish dramatist, novelist and artist Witkacy died of a twice-broken heart. Jan Potocki was haunted by the thought that he was a werewolf; Otto Weininger by his doppelgänger. Though many of the writers mentioned had, as we would now say, substance abuse issues, Anne Sexton was unusual in having been driven to her quietus directly by drink.

Then again, "direct" is a problematic term in this context. You will seek in vain for a through line to Gary Lachman's book. Some of the writers in it were obsessed by their own mortality, some fascinated by it, some completely caught on the hop by it. This saddest of stories has no clear trajectory.

Yes, it is "something of a cheat" to count Mary Wollstonecraft as a suicide – mainly because she wasn't one. But the odd lapse, both in judgement and, occasionally, in grammar, does not detract from a desperately moving and oddly inspiring collection.

Dedalus £9.99

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