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Diana Athill’s books include Yesterday Morning and Stet: An Editor’s Life. For fifty years she was the editorial director of André Deutsch, where she worked with such authors as Jean Rhys, Gitta Sereny and V. S. Naipaul. Her memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, was published by Granta Books in January 2008.
Acclaimed as an editor of unparalleled ingenuity, the late, great Diana Athill was herself a remarkable writer. Her memoirs and this - her only novel - are compelling, candid and affectingly meticulous, with a precise style reminiscent of Jean Rhys, whose work Athill edited and championed. Indeed, Meg, the main character here, with her self-critical wit, lodging house living and misfortune in matters of the heart is somewhat reminiscent of Rhys’s characters. The daughter of a poor pastor and distant mother, Meg found school “hateful and humiliating” and “knew that the adjectives most often used in connection with my name were ‘conceited’, ‘superior’ and ‘affected’”. But it’s here that Meg discovers her talent for drawing and befriends grown-up, glamorous, wealthy Roxane, to whom she remains complicatedly connected for many years. After attending art school in Oxford, Meg defies convention and moves to London where she finds some happiness in the chaos of a shared house. While Meg becomes a sought-after illustrator, her existence always feels precariously unsettled. She falls in love with entirely the wrong man and their passionate affair renders her impotent in many regards. “Two sayings which I detest”, she declares: “You must face facts” and “You can’t have your cake and eat it’”. And herein lies Meg’s fundamental struggle to find ease (her needs and outlook are at odds with the world), which Athill explores to intense affect in this luminous coming-of-age treasure.
Written in an even more vivid and direct style than her celebrated memoirs, Diana Athill's letters to the American poet Edward Field reveal a sharply intelligent woman with a brilliant sense of humour, a keen eye for the absurd, a fierce loyalty and a passionate zest for life. This intimate correspondence spanning thirty years covers her final years as an editor at Andre Deutsch, her retirement and immersion in her own writing, her growing fame and encroaching old age, and gives a fascinating insight into a life fully lived. Edited, selected and introduced by Diana Athill, and annotated with her own delightful notes, this funny, revealing and immensely readable collection will bring enormous pleasure to her many thousands of readers.
Santa may not welcome this hefty four-books-in-one-volume on your wish-list, but that’s what he is paid for. And he will be spreading the joy. Diana Athill is quite simply one of our most captivating and truth-seeking memoir writers, and this collection spans most of her 92 years: her playful childhood recollections, Yesterday Morning; Athill’s deeply sad love affair years, Instead of a Letter; her career as a hugely influential books editor, Stet; and her blisteringly wise and straightforward thoughts on getting older and more savvy, Somewhere Towards The End: ‘Regrets. I say to myself. What regrets?’
Winner of the Costa Biography Award 2008. The sixth instalment of this great lady’s life. She was the backbone of the publishing house Andre Deutsch and even though, being in the business, I am naturally drawn to this, I do heartily recommend it to everyone. She has a fluidity to her writing, a view of life which is so refreshing and an attitude to old age, which is what is discussed here, that should be a template for us all. Costa Book Awards 2008 Judges' comment: "A graceful, clear-sighted and brave memoir entirely lacking in self-pity - this is a wise and wry take on exactly what it's like to grow old." Featured on The Book Show on Sky Arts on 8 January 2009.
Several years ago, Diana Athill accepted that she could no longer live entirely independently, and moved to a retirement home in Highgate. When she had acclimatized, she found herself released from the daily anxieties of caring for her own property, and free to settle into her remaining years. From this vantage point, she reflects on what it feels like to be very old, and on the moments in her long life that have risen to the surface and which sustain her in these last years. What really matters in the end? And after a long life, which memories stand out? As she approaches her 100th year, Athill recalls in sparkling, precise detail the exact layout of the garden of her childhood, a vast and beautiful park attached to a large house; relates with humour, clarity and honesty her experiences of the First and Second World Wars and her trips to Europe as a young woman; and in the remarkable title chapter, describes her pregnancy at the age of forty-three, losing the baby and almost losing her life - and her gratitude and joy on discovering that she had survived. With vivid memories of the past mingled with candid, wise and often very funny reflections on what it's like to be very old, Alive, Alive Oh! reminds us what really matters, and of the joy to be found at every stage of life.