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Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir Hardcover – January 5, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American Ed edition (January 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039306770X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393067705
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #530,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When it comes to facing old age, writes Athill, there are no lessons to be learnt, no discoveries to be made, no solutions to offer. As the acclaimed British memoirist (who wrote about her experiences as a book editor in Stet) pushes past 90, she realizes that there is not much on record on falling away and resolves to set down some of her observations. She is bluntly unconcerned with conventional wisdom, unapologetically recounting her extended role as the Other Woman in her companion's prior marriage—then explaining how he didn't move in with her until after they'd stopped having sex, which is why it was no big deal for her to invite his next mistress to move in with them to save expenses. She is equally frank in discussing how, as their life turns sad and boring, she copes with his declining health, just as she cared for her mother in her final years. Firmly resolute that no afterlife awaits her, Athill finds just enough optimism in this world to keep her reflections from slipping into morbidity—she may not offer much comfort, but it's a bracing read. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Athill spent more than fifty years editing writers including Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Jean Rhys, and V. S. Naipaul. In later life, she "had the luck to discover" that she could write; her book-world memoir, "Stet," appeared when she was eighty-three. Now, at ninety-one, she offers a spry dispatch on the condition of being elderly, having realized that copious literature describes the experience of youth, "but there is not much on record about falling away." Her perspective is both remorseless and tender as she considers the waning of her sexual desire, the sharpening of her atheist resolve, her increasing preference for nonfiction rather than novels ("I no longer feel the need to ponder human relationships . . . but I do still want to be fed facts"), and the truth that, even in her advanced state, much of her time is taken up with caring for those still older. The achievement of Athill's work is its refusal to reduce the specificities of her captivating life to homilies about wisdom.
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More About the Author

Born in 1917 and educated at Oxford University, DIANA ATHILL has written several memoirs, including "Instead of a Letter," "After a Funeral," "Somewhere Towards the End," and the New York Times Notable Book "Stet," about her fifty-year career in publishing. She lives in London and was recently appointed an Officer of the British Empire.

Customer Reviews

Like a good poet, she chooses just the right word most of the time.
Rob W. Hartop
Reading her book, I realize how much first-person writing (including my own) is flashy, self-conscious, more about showing off than saying something useful.
It makes me stronger, and it makes me more clear about life and about myself.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

196 of 199 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on January 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I want to make it clear that this memoir is not only for those euphemistically known as "seniors" (an appellation I despise). Although it was written by a woman now 91, and it is about aging, it is not just about that; it also journeys through reading, writing, religion (or the lack thereof), children (or the absence thereof), death, sex, luck and friendship.

For Diana Athill's contemporaries, the book must be immediately relevant. For me, almost 30 years younger (and thus, according to her, "still within hailing distance of middle age"), it is a reassuring dispatch from my all-too-near future. I can't speak for younger generations, but I think that they too will find more meaning and sustenance in this slim (183-page) volume than in a hundred self-help books.

Athill was for 50 years a brilliant London book editor; among her writers were Jean Rhys, V.S. Naipaul and Margaret Atwood. She wrote about all this in STET, an amazing memoir of her publishing days that she produced at 80. Although she had written other memoirs and a novel before that, her discovery of herself as a full-fledged writer came relatively late. Athill is emphatic that the ability to "make things" --- art, music, books --- is a crucial factor in having a lively and resilient old age, yet for most of her long career (she retired at 75), she seems to have been content to let others do the making, while she remained a behind-the-scenes figure.

Athill, in fact, was brought up with a very British horror of attention-seeking or boastfulness: "YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY PEBBLE ON THE BEACH might have been inscribed above the nursery door," she writes, "and I know several people...
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68 of 70 people found the following review helpful By G. Charles Steiner TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book specifically with the hope that I, nearing 60, might glean what it really is like to be much, much older and how I might cope with myself and with life. Granted I'm the sex opposite the author's own, but I still had hopes that I might understand better about aging and debility (since sporty John Jerome's "On Turning Sixty-Five" wasn't interesting to me and Gore Vidal, who is only 82, isn't likely to write such a helpful book at all), and I'm glad to report that my hopes were fulfilled. What I gleaned cannot be summarized with details, but what was conveyed in the reading was and is an existential self-confidence in being able to deal with life's limitations.

As the earliest reviewer reported, Diana Athill hits all the tough subjects: sex, death, losing one's parents, broken hearts, disabilities, losing interest in books and activities, unions and disunions. Yet all these tough subjects are considered intelligently while also being personable and non-despairing.

The one exception, for me, was the chapter discussing gardening. While gardening is one of the author's joys, here, I felt I was a nephew being forced to listen to an aging aunt nattering on heedlessly about plants, as any aging aunt might. But this was a brief experience, the only "boring old trout" (her words) part; the memoir is only 182 pages long besides.

One might assume that being a famous editor for decades, Diane Athill's first topics easily might be around books or authors or writing. Not so. She doesn't come around to discuss literary matters till Chapter 13 of this 16-chapter memoir. Quite astonishingly, she informs her readers that in her late years she no longer reads fiction; it doesn't interest her just as her body, at 70, was no longer interested in sex.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Reader on January 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a book I will read again. And again. I found in it such a quiet reflection on life, beautifully put. This woman is a gifted writer, and I appreciate her experience with old age with death on the horizon, the end of life. I am in that place of view now, and this is a book to help me with my final part of life. There are several other authors who have spoken for me me in the way that Athill has - Joan Didion and May Sarton. It is a wonderful and strengthening experience to see my innermost feelings put into words and concepts. It makes me stronger, and it makes me more clear about life and about myself.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Katie Birch on May 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. B. Dunn on January 2, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When was the last time you encountered someone new and the word 'wisdom' popped into your head? Not very often lately? Me neither. Until last week. I read right through this book, "Somewhere Towards the End," as soon as I finished reading right through Diana Athill's earlier book, "Stet."

I bought "Stet" because it was the memoir of a superb book editor, a job I had done once myself, though not superbly. She had been one of the founders of a small, elite British house and worked with Mailer, Vidal, and Updike to name but three of their stable.

I bought "Somewhere Towards The End" because I was wondering what it is like to be old. I knew about arthritis, wrinkles and a sense of irrelevance. Who doesn't? I had been wondering if there was anything more appealing to be said for it. Diana Athill was close to 90 when she wrote this book, and the answer she personifies is 'Yes, there is.'

You see from the first page that she herself is a wonderful writer, a very unusual writer, and she must have been hell on wheels as an editor. (Not in the way you may be thinking though; Gordon Liss she is not. Her insights are penetrating, but her touch is very light., just short of self- effacing.) She embodies more than a few paradoxes. She she did not bring the kind of clear, rational insights to her own personal and financial life that she invested in her authors' books. She is quite frank about it, but never self-pitying. Fortunately for the reader, she made interesting mistakes with interesting people. One of the things that charmed and fascinated me is how lucidly and candidly she writes about her misadventures.
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