Category Archives: Diana Athill

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?

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