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.
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.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker