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Letters to a Friend
     

Letters to a Friend

by Diana Athill
 

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“What a feast. Diana’s work compels me. . . . She’s got her teeth into life!”—Alice Munro

Diana Athill is one of our great women of letters. The renowned editor of V. S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys, and many others, she is also a celebrated memoirist whose Somewhere Towards the End was a New York Times bestseller and a

Overview

“What a feast. Diana’s work compels me. . . . She’s got her teeth into life!”—Alice Munro

Diana Athill is one of our great women of letters. The renowned editor of V. S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys, and many others, she is also a celebrated memoirist whose Somewhere Towards the End was a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. For thirty years, Athill corresponded with the American poet Edward Field, freely sharing jokes, pleasures, and pains with her old friend. Letters to a Friend is an epistolary memoir that describes a warm, decades-long friendship. Written with intimacy and spontaneity, candor and grace, it is perhaps more revealing than any of her celebrated books.

Edited, selected, and introduced by Athill, and annotated with her own delightful notes, this collection—rich with Athill’s characteristic wit, humor, elegance, and honesty—reveals a sharply intelligent woman with a keen eye for the absurd, a brilliant turn of phrase, and a wicked sense of humor. Covering her career as an editor, the adventure of her retirement, her immersion in her own writing, and her reactions to becoming unexpectedly famous in her old age—including gossip about legendary authors and mutual friends, sharp pen-portraits, and uninhibited accounts of her relationships—Letters to a Friend describes a flourishing friendship and offers a portrait of a woman growing older without ever losing her zest for life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Only one side of the 30-year correspondence between longtime British author Athill, an editorial director at Andre Deutsch, and the American poet Edward Field is conveyed here, while the absence of Field’s replies are not adequately explained. The two began swapping letters between London and New York City in 1980, inspired by their mutual friendship with the difficult, somewhat mad Andre Deutsch author Alfred Chester (The Exquisite Corpse), who had died in 1971; Field was inquiring how to bring Chester out of “literary annihilation.” Over the course of the decades, Athill reveals a growing familiarly, fondness, and admiration for Field (“Darling Edward”) and for his longtime blind partner, Neil Derrick, who together visited her occasionally in London. Athill’s letters reveal literary gossip about her authors; enthusiasm for writing projects; home improvement works; travels with her cousin, Barbara; and a deeply ambivalent, changing relationship with Jamaican playwright Barry Reckord. Much of the correspondence devolves into details of the “creeping and wheezing” of getting old (Athill is now in her 90s, and Field is six years younger). Throughout this warm, enduring literary bond, Athill exposes a charming wit, vanity, and graciousness. (Apr.)
Shelf Awareness
Diana Athill is perhaps best known for her memoir Somewhere Towards the End, but Letters to a Friend could eclipse it. ... Each letter is an unalloyed delight; articulate to the point of eloquence, and candid, even about the naughty bits and her frustration with her long-time lover, Barry Reckord (a Jamaican playwright now deceased). They were together for years, in a relationship so open that, at one point, Athill invited one of his girlfriends to live with them. ...[E]very letter in Letters to a Friend is a small masterpiece; chatty, companionable and very, very intelligent.— Valerie Ryan
San Francisco Chronicle
[T]his latest of her books,… demonstrates, through the tart comments she has interposed, that, well into her 90s, she has lost none of her fire. …Her undeniably patrician manner and lapidary prose style notwithstanding, it is very clear from the warmth of Athill's communications with her friend that for her, kind hearts are indeed far more than coronets, her genuine concern and sympathy with his travails shining through…. One feels that Athill isn't capable of writing a rote ‘bread and butter letter.’ One of the joys of this book is how heartfelt her sentences always are, so full of freshness and purpose, whether describing an experience or indulging in a spot of delicious gossip. … Words across an ocean from a true friend for all seasons.— Martin Rubin
Chicago Tribune
Many writers can be admired for their lyricism, their powers of imagination and their incisive wit. But there’s only one I can think of who inspires a way to live life: Diana Athill.— Elizabeth Taylor
Cleveland Plain Dealer
[T]renchant and engaging . . . often hilarious.— Bill Eichenberger
Elizabeth Taylor - Chicago Tribune
“Many writers can be admired for their lyricism, their powers of imagination and their incisive wit. But there’s only one I can think of who inspires a way to live life: Diana Athill.”
Bill Eichenberger - Cleveland Plain Dealer
““[T]renchant and engaging . . . often hilarious.”
Valerie Ryan - Shelf Awareness
“Diana Athill is perhaps best known for her memoir Somewhere Towards the End, but Letters to a Friend could eclipse it. ... Each letter is an unalloyed delight; articulate to the point of eloquence, and candid, even about the naughty bits. . . . [E]very letter in Letters to a Friend is a small masterpiece; chatty, companionable and very, very intelligent.”
Martin Rubin - San Francisco Chronicle
“[T]his latest of her books,… demonstrates, through the tart comments she has interposed, that, well into her 90s, she has lost none of her fire. …Her undeniably patrician manner and lapidary prose style notwithstanding, it is very clear from the warmth of Athill's communications with her friend that for her, kind hearts are indeed far more than coronets, her genuine concern and sympathy with his travails shining through…. One feels that Athill isn't capable of writing a rote ‘bread and butter letter.’ One of the joys of this book is how heartfelt her sentences always are, so full of freshness and purpose, whether describing an experience or indulging in a spot of delicious gossip. … Words across an ocean from a true friend for all seasons.”
Kirkus Reviews
The renowned British publisher follows her refreshingly honest series of late-in-life memoirs with a collection of three decades of letters to a fellow writer in New York. Athill (Somewhere Towards the End, 2009, etc.) spent most of her career as a highly respected editorial director for London publisher André Deutsch, propelling the careers of notable writers such as Margaret Atwood, Jean Rhys and Philip Roth. Celebrated for her editing prowess, Athill began publishing short stories and autobiographical works in her mid 40s. After retiring from publishing at age 75, her career as a memoirist hit a steep trajectory. Here Athill illuminates broad swaths of her past, with more than 100 characteristically candid dispatches to poet Edward Field, from 1981 to 2007. With the brisk immediacy and contextual depth that often distinguishes correspondence from memoir, Athill's letters reveal vivid shades of her colorful personality that heretofore have been most evident in interviews. Matter-of-fact observations detail the minutiae of her daily life: trying to find ribbons for her old typewriter; the eventual, daunting switch to computers; the modest fee for an article she wrote; flowers budding in the garden; bodily functions during illnesses. The author deftly intertwines tales of travels, dinner parties and quirky characters with blunt observations and passages about the life of a writer. Without the balance of Fields' epistles bridging her letters, however, their extensive dialogue reads like a one-sided conversation. Occasional footnotes and poems are not enough to provide sufficient background, often leaving readers in the dark about the people, places, emotions and events she references. Endearingly forthright, buoyant and detailed, Athill's letters tell but one side of a cherished bond, leaving the reader eager to see her friend's replies.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393084344
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
04/09/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
1,046,384
File size:
438 KB

Meet the Author

Diana Athill was born in 1917. After a distinguished career as a book editor, she won the National Book Critics Circle and Costa Biography Awards for her memoir Somewhere Towards the End. In January 2009, she was presented with an OBE. She lives in Highgate, London.

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