Summary and book reviews of Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill

Somewhere Towards the End

A Memoir

by Diana Athill

Somewhere Towards the End
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2009, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2009, 208 pages

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Book Summary

An esteemed memoirist examines aging with the grace of Elegy for Iris and the wry irreverence of I Feel Bad About My Neck.

Diana Athill is one of the great editors in British publishing. For more than five decades she edited the likes of V. S. Naipaul and Jean Rhys, for whom she was a confidante and caretaker. As a writer, Diana Athill has made her reputation for the frankness and precisely expressed wisdom of her memoirs. Now in her ninety-first year, "entirely untamed about both old and new conventions" (Literary Review) and freed from any of the inhibitions that even she may have once had, Athill reflects candidly, and sometimes with great humor, on the condition of being old—the losses and occasionally the gains that age brings, the wisdom and fortitude required to face death. Distinguished by "remarkable intelligence...[and the] easy elegance of her prose" (Daily Telegraph), this short, well-crafted book, hailed as "a virtuoso exercise" (Sunday Telegraph) presents an inspiring work for those hoping to flourish in their later years

About the deaths of my paternal grandparents, my father's siblings and my mother's father I know little, but nothing was ever said to suggest that they were particularly harrowing, while on my mother's side one sister had a stroke when she was eighty-three from which she died almost at once without recovering consciousness; another aged ninety-four was distressed for less than an hour, then died in a daughter's arms just after saying that she was now feeling much better; another went quietly after becoming increasingly weak and dozy for about three weeks; and their brother, a lucky man whose luck held to the very end, was on his horse at a meet of the Norwich Stag-hounds at the age of eighty-two, talking with friends, when flop! and he fell off his horse stone dead in the middle of a laugh. The eldest of my cousins had similar luck, falling down dead as she was making a cup of tea.

My brother, who died last year, was less lucky, but not because he was painfully ill for a long time, ...

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  • award image

    Costa Book Awards
    2008

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    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2010

Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner

Ms. Athill's book is welcome and original because she is such a robust, free-thinking, nonmawkish presence on the page. She catalogs the indignities of old age while reminding us how much joy can be sucked out of a physically diminished life, joy that often comes from unexpected places.

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda

To readers Athill delivers far more than modest pleasure: Her easy-going prose and startling honesty are riveting, for whither she has gone many of us will go as well…A refusal to sugar-coat and a commitment to utter frankness, coupled with an engaging style, make Diana Athill's Somewhere Towards the End unusually appealing, despite its inherently cheerless subject.

Booklist

Noted British editor and writer Athill decided at 91 to “have a go” at writing about the process of getting old....choice pearls sparkling with dry wit for the reader to ponder, reflect upon, and perhaps assimilate.

Publishers Weekly

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.

BookMarks Magazine

This is a remarkable memoir, not the least for its honest approach to the end of life.

The New York Times Book Review - Erica Jong

[Athill's] memoir is captivating because of her fearlessness of death, her sense that death is another adventure in her adventurous life.

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