Monday, 28 February 2011

Somewhere Towards The End - Diana Athill

In this book Diana Athill writes about what it's like to be old. She is beautifully unsentimental as she considers her life. She says that there is not much point in writing a book unless you're prepared to be honest and she neither minimises or exaggerates the problems of getting older.

As she looks back on her life she picks out some regrets. One of the main ones is not ensuring that she hadn't ensured her financial stability while she was working (though she didn't retire until she was 75) which would have removed some of the worry about looking after her elderly mother. But she doesn't blame anyone but herself for this. She knows she should've had a better salary at Andre Deutsch where she worked for so many years, but believes that it was her own fault for not fighting for it.

She writes very frankly about relationships and the gradually loss of sexual relationships. She accepts this without much regret, though she had enjoyed sex. She said to her final lover, 'The trouble with me is that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. My body has gone against it.' She had a sneaking suspicion that he felt the same way!

She has been very lucky to enjoy good health for most of her life and her fears about dying are eased somewhat by the fact that everyone in her family seems to have had an easy death. (Her mother's last words were, 'It was absolutely divine'. She was talking about a trip to a garden centre with Athill's brother).
She doesn't give advice as such, but it would seem that her key ingredients for a happy old age are keeping your interests and hobbies up and having the company of younger people.

Something that she mentioned which caught my attention particularly was that she doesn't like to read novels any more, though she read nothing other than novels as a younger woman. The reason she only reads non-fiction now is:

I no longer feel the need to ponder human relationships - particularly not love affairs - but I do still want to be fed facts, to be given material which extends the region in which my mind can wander...

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Athill has a lovely clear voice which reads wonderfully. It's not a handbook, she's not preachy. She just tells of her life as it is.


  1. I've had this on the tbr pile since it came out, but somehow haven't got round to it. She is such a remarkable woman and a real example of how to grow old in body but not in mind. Thank you for reminding me about it.

  2. Annie - after reading it I wished I was a friend of hers!