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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.
In England half a century ago, well-brought-up young women are meant to aspire to the respectable life. Some things are not to be spoken of; some are most certainly not to be done. There are rules, conventions. Meg Bailey obeys them. She progresses from Home Counties school to un-Bohemian art college with few outward signs of passion or frustration. Her personality is submerged in polite routines; even with her best friend, Roxane, what can't be said looms far larger than what can. But circumstances change. Meg gets a job and moves to London. Roxane gets married to a man picked out by her mother. And then Meg does something shocking - shocking not only by the standards of her time, but by our own. As sharp and startling now as when it was written, Don't Look at Me Like That matches Diana Athill's memoirs After a Funeral and Instead of a Letter in its gift for storytelling and its unflinching candour about love and betrayal.
Publication date: 05/12/2019
Publisher: Granta Books
|Publication date:||5th December 2019|
|Genres:||Literary Fiction, Star Books,|
|Categories:||Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945),|
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.More About Diana Athill