An esteemed memoirist examines aging with the grace of Elegy for Iris and the wry irreverence of I Feel Bad About My Neck.
Diana Athill is one of the great editors in British publishing. For more than five decades she edited the likes of V. S. Naipaul and Jean Rhys, for whom she was a confidante and caretaker. As a writer, Diana Athill has made her reputation for the frankness and precisely expressed wisdom of her memoirs. Now in her ninety-first year, "entirely untamed about both old and new conventions" (Literary Review) and freed from any of the inhibitions that even she may have once had, Athill reflects candidly, and sometimes with great humor, on the condition of being old°™the losses and occasionally the gains that age brings, the wisdom and fortitude required to face death. Distinguished by "remarkable intelligence...[and the] easy elegance of her prose" (Daily Telegraph), this short, well-crafted book, hailed as "a virtuoso exercise" (Sunday Telegraph) presents an inspiring work for those hoping to flourish in their later years.
What a bore And waste of time. I cannot believe the great reviews this book got in the press. I kept reading to the end to try to learn why only to be disgusted at having wasted my time.
Want more detail? "Ditto" the other one star review. ...more info
Honest and realistic sharing I bought this book because I am in my 71st year and find that people are reluctant to talk about death or impending death. The author tackled the subject head on with clarity, humilty, humour and wisdom gained over years of facing her everyday life with honesty. Talking about how to deal with the changes that old age can bring and how they can be managed on a day to day basis without too much resistance and a deal of acceptance was very helpful. It is well worth reading and left me with a feeling of peace and the occasional chuckle.
Geriatrica Reminiscenses of an eldery and accomplished English women detailing the decline and losses resulting from advanced age. Yes, the writing is good, but the tone is somewhat dreary--not something one would read for pleasure or even for empathetic autobiographical insights....more info
Somewhere towards the end Diana Athill, now 91, is a remarkable woman. She was an editor for Andre Deutsch in London for 50 years, retiring at 75.
Somewhere Towards the End is an honest, funny, revealing glance at her life. This is not a book about how to be noble and wise, but rather a long essay about being true to oneself. She writes, for instance, about wanting a pug but realizing that she is too old to take it for walks. She continues, commenting that her friend and author Jean Rhys was her "object lesson, demonstrating how not to think about getting old...She expected old age to make her miserable, and it did...." And, more humorously, about another friend who, "slapped on a lot of scarlet lipstick, [which] would soon come off on her teeth and begin to run into the little wrinkles round the edge of her lips, making her look like a vampire bat disturbed in mid-dinner." Athill does feel, even now, that a bit of makeup makes her feel better.
Athill was a wild one in her unconventional young years, and in her older years as well. She doesn't fudge, writing things that may shock some even in this day. She touches on love and relationships, religion or her lack thereof, but also charms her readers with the memory of her grandmother reading bible stories aloud.
There are times when she does focus on aging. Consider her observations on relating to younger people, those who are just beginning. "It enables us actually to feel again--that we are not just dots at the end of thin black lines projecting into nothingness, but are parts of the broad, many-coloured river teeming with beginnings, ripenings, decayings, new beginnings--are still parts of it, and our dying will be part it...."
Part of Athill's aliveness, I believe, is her ability to continue learning. Not only was she a late blooming author, but also artist, seamstress, and gardener. She observes her bodily decline with candor and her driving foibles (at the age of 89) with humor. Athill writes of the decline of her companion, once lover, with tenderness and clarity.
Perhaps, what captured my interest most about Diana Athill was her chapter on books and book reviews. She has been a book reviewer for these many years. She comments that it pushes one toward some books that one would not naturally pick up and she goes on to mention one that I, too, reviewed: Georgina Howell's book on Gertrude Bell. Athill, then goes off on a delightful tangent about her dislike of the name Gertrude. Somewhere Towards the End is a delightful, scrappy engagement. When I grow older, I want to be like Diana Athill.
by Judith Helburn
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
A rather selfish life... A life lived fully, and the conclusion is: no God, infidelity is okay if no one gets hurt; focus on your life--on self.
On marriage, Ms. Athill's justification for infidelities are the two extremes, radical Islam, where a woman brings shame on her family unless she is put to death, or infidelity is, as the French believe, "perfectly acceptable if conducted properly."
Her conclusion between a man and woman is basic animal behavior.
Ms Athill, does not believe in God. She calls herself an achiest. This was crystallized by the comment of a casual lover many years ago: "...might not be that beginnings and endings are things we think in terms of simply because our minds are too primitive to conceive anything else?"
She believes after 91 years on earth that to believe in God means "smallness and boring...even frightening." She further concludes, "People of faith so often seen to forget that the God who gives their lives meaning too often provides them with justification when they want to wipe out other people who believe in other Gods, or in nothing." Believers created beliefs, or these Powers, so they could turn to them for direction and control behaviors. "The mechanism was a obviously necessary one in its time..."
But a few sentences later she says, "Right behavior, to me, is the behavior taught me by my Christian family...I have accepted Christ's teaching partly because it continues to make sense."
She does a great service by sharing the simple truth that we're never too old to learn something new. Nor to old to make new friends in the process. She gives deep space to gardening. Her touching struggles to give up driving, and facing the memories of having to take her own Mother's car away. Her horrific accident where she was spared even a scratch but the fiasco to get her car off the road combined with malfunctioning police radios to her sudden "general physical malaise" suddenly resolved in a cup of "sweet hot tea!"
Sadly to this reader, she settled into life being "the other woman," and takes no accountability for any of these men's failed marriages. I guess when you're in your 90's you find peace where you can.
And then there is Barry. She never married the sap, but now he's old and sick and she's stuck. Poor Barry with his penchant for morphine. She's spot-on with the "humilities of illness." Her non-husband ends up on a catheter when his urinary system goes south...and refuses to use the toilet with a nurse, and saves a Mt. Vesuvius blow-out for her to clean, which she does with detachment.
"She no longer feels the need to ponder human relationships-particularly love affairs."
She claims not to regret being childless, but her story made me sad. She became pregnant at 43 but had a miscarriage, apparently this child's loss in her life nearly killed her, both physically and emotionally. But there was another pregnancy that she terminated "without hesitation or subsequent unhappiness."
She sums up the experience as believing if she'd had a child she would have been a good mother. And she lives in peace because she "can't have the hassle of close involvement...
Ultimately, after 91 years, she concludes a long life is about luck. Who and where you were born, and in the end dissolve into nothingness. Are lives are just interesting....more info