‘Somewhere Towards the End’ by Diana Athill

Now 91, and formerly one of the most prominent book editors in Britain, Athill’s various memoirs freely acknowledge she’s had the luck: good genes, good family, good time to be born.


 

You don’t have to be in full agreement with everything Diana Athill thinks, writes and does—should she really still be driving at 91?—to recognize she’s having an old age to envy. Now 91, and formerly one of the most prominent book editors in Britain, Athill’s various memoirs freely acknowledge she’s had the luck: good genes, good family, good time to be born. Still, there is enormous, beguiling pleasure to be found in reading her latest book. Athill’s 16 essays in Somewhere Towards the End (Raincoast) examine the intersection of old age and any number of topics, ranging from a happy life (hard thinking brings few regrets to mind) to the absolute need for the independence permitted by continued driving to the end of her sexual desire (some decades before) to her near-imminent death and her disbelief in an afterlife. Courage, often discomfiting honesty (but if you can’t be honest at the end) and a beautifully spare style grace her writing. But what really warms the reader to her is Athill’s ongoing curiosity and love of living. She’s amused herself by choosing her last words (knowing it’s unlikely she will get a chance to say them)—”It’s alright. Don’t mind not knowing.” But she’s still hopeful that “the occasion on which I have to say it does not come very soon.”


 

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