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Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir Paperback – December 7, 2009
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From The New Yorker
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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...Read more ›
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.Read more ›
For the author, crossing the age of seventy was the most significant milestone in her life, because that is the point at which she "ceased to be a sexual being." Interestingly, she had almost a predisposition for long-running affairs with black men, highly cultured and not necessarily single. She readily admits they were affairs that satisfied needs and status, more than being deep commitments. As sex regrettably ebbed in her life, "other things became more interesting." She points to a better understanding of her atheism, as an example, and how it fits in a Christian society. Unsurprisingly, as a long time editor at a publishing house, she retains a deep interest in books, although novels, with their focus on relationships and escapism, have become less appealing.
The author was born in a well-to-do English family and comments on the advantages of money, good health, and a good education in dealing with old age. She does not pretend to have much to say for those not so advantaged. She has a level of comfort, psychological and otherwise, in her life that she is hopeful will be sustaining for her remaining time.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A very well written work, part memoir, part description of her current life in old age. Satisfies the curiosity in some of us Boomers about what it is like to be in late old... Read morePublished 1 day ago by SandySEPA
I could have done without hearing about here ancient love life, but ending up liking it especially when I found she appreciated Jane Austen.Published 1 month ago by LMFChicago
I enjoyed this book so much, I purchased 2 more copies for my siblings, none of us less than 63 years old.Published 2 months ago by Patricia Of Northern CA
As I get older, I find myself thinking back over my life. Great to read about a woman doing the same and looking forward.Published 2 months ago by Betty Crawfordr
It is a fine read for an older person. I don't think a young person would be interested in it.Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer