Somewhere Towards The End – Diana Athill

Having read such a fabulous tome of a book as the wonderful ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ by Jude Morgan I wasn’t ready to go straight into another tome in the form of (what so far is shaping another wonderful book) of A.S. Byatt’s ‘The Childrens Book’ and the start of my Man Booker-a-thon. So I didn’t quite know what I should read next. So I picked up the winner of the Costa Biography Award 2008 which is Diana Athill’s ‘Somewhere Towards The End’. 

I didn’t know anything about Diana Athill other than the fact she had written an award winning book about being old. Seriously I am not going to lie and say I knew that she was a literary editor and I didn’t know that she had written a novel, a complication of short stories and five other biographies before this one. So really I didn’t know what to expect but it was like finding a secret treasure trove. 

Athill herself writes about the feelings and thoughts of someone who was born in 1917 and what its like to be living in 2009 and what it is like to be old. Anything and everything is up for discussion from how “seeing Pug’s in a park” making her cross as she can’t ever own one as she cant walk it or it might outlive her to religion or sexual desires dying and awakening as you get older. It’s never rude or awkward just very, very frank and honest and open and that is priceless in an author of their own biography I always felt I was getting the untainted truth. 

I laughed a lot with this book from all the subjects in this book. (In fact I should have mentioned it in yesterday’s blog.) There is however the slightly dark and disturbing subject of death, something that Athill isn’t worried about its more that she just doesn’t want it to be ‘painful or horrid, and lets face it, it can be horrid’ and yet even in this harder subject, no one is really very good at death are they, she discusses it in such an honest and positive way that you feel much better about it. I wish you could bottle Athill’s happiness and optimism the world would undoubtedly be a much better place. But then again her life and experiences seem to have taught her life is short, for living and regret very little. 

Now anyone who says that ‘you have to be old to enjoy this book’ is probably one of those people who said ‘only people who have had children can understand We Need to Talk About Kevin’ and are wrong (these were both issues raised on the brilliant Guardian Book Club Podcasts and made me very cross). I mean Lionel Shriver hasn’t had children and she wrote that book. I don’t want to kill people but found ‘In Cold Blood’ fascinating, do you know what I mean? A good author will make you experience all sorts of things that we haven’t been through before and possibly never will. Well after reading ‘Somewhere Towards The End’ I am looking forward to old age a lot more than I was before. 

This is perfect for a relaxed afternoon read where you can read it all in one sitting as believe me you won’t be able to put it down. Like I said I didn’t know anything about Diana Athill and I didn’t know that she had written a novel, a complication of short stories and five other biographies before this one… I am thrilled to know it all now as I have absolutely loads more of Athill’s work to read and that is definitely a treat to look forward to.

Do you think you have to be older to enjoy this book, can you only enjoy books if you have experienced something in them yourselves? Have you read this and did you completely love it? Have you read any of Diana Athill’s other books of fiction or non-fiction?


Filed under Books of 2009, Diana Athill, Granta Books, Review

15 responses to “Somewhere Towards The End – Diana Athill

  1. I think I’m the person who said ‘only people who have had children can understand We Need to Talk About Kevin’ but if I am then you’ve mis-quoted me. I think anyone who has had children will appreciate it a lot more. I was shocked when I discovered that Lionel Shriver hadn’t had children and that proves what an amazing author she is.

    I think that if you are experiencing the issues raised in any particular book then it is bound to have more of an impact on you. I haven’t heard of this book, but I think I can appreciate books about old people. I loved The Wilderness, but have no experience of alzheimers.

    Thought-provoking review!

    • Oh no, when did you say that? I was referring to a a podcast (maybe I should edit it so it says this) from Guardian Book Club where one woman was actually kicking off about it and made me really angry. I wasnt aware you had said anything like it, sorry if you thought had offended.

      I agree if you have experienced something and then read about it it does highten it. I also think truly brilliant authors can manage to put you in the heads, lives or settings of people and places you never thought you could. Like In Cold Blood where you are very much in the mind of a killer.

      • You wrote a post a while back about how you didn’t like Kevin and I said that you might want to wait until you have children before attempting to re-read it. Don’t worry – you haven’t offended me!

  2. Whereas I think that as a person who is ambivalent and conflicted about motherhood, I appreciated We Need to Talk About Kevin more… but wanted all the mothers I knew to read it to see what their take was.
    I think no matter the subject matter we bring our own experiences, hopes, and fears to the table and, yes, they can affect out enjoyment of the novel but just because I haven’t been to Japan doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy Japanese Literature (as one from a host of examples).
    Anyway, just my two pence worth.

  3. When I first started reading your review, I thought “Ugh! I don’t want to wallow in the fact that we are all headed for death!”, but as you went along, I realized this was not the case with this story. I think it would be enlightening to feel a bit better about aging and growing old. I, for one, look forward to my retirement years and playing with my husband (not that I’m wishing away my children’s lives…). Everyone out there is getting old, unless they have some special deal with God, so everyone should appreciate this book. I think it also might give younger people a little more reverence towards their parents and grandparents.

    • Sandy I think that this is possibly one of the most poistive books I have read in ages. Athill is just constantly upbeat and makes what could be quite grim reading a true delight. Recommended to anyone and everyone.

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  5. I loved this book and am a big fan of Diana Athills other memoirs and novels – definitely worth reading. I love her take on life.

  6. Very impressed with your review of this great book. I have recently retired and come at it from a different perspective. I will certainly be looking out for more review from you. Thanks.

    • Thank you very much for popping by and commenting thats really kind of you. I think its fascinating how several people can read a book and get so many different things from it, its one of the things that I have enjoyed so much about book group.

  7. Pingback: Been On A Bit of A Book Bender « Savidge Reads

  8. Everyone younger should have to read this book, it demystifies ageing. Diana Athilll is an example to us all.

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