Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir

Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir

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by Diana Athill
     
 

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The New York Times bestseller: a prize-winning, critically acclaimed memoir on life and aging —“An honest joy to read” (Alice Munro).

Hailed as “a virtuoso exercise” (Sunday Telegraph), this book reflects candidly, sometimes with great humor, on the condition of being old. Charming readers, writers, and critics

Overview

The New York Times bestseller: a prize-winning, critically acclaimed memoir on life and aging —“An honest joy to read” (Alice Munro).

Hailed as “a virtuoso exercise” (Sunday Telegraph), this book reflects candidly, sometimes with great humor, on the condition of being old. Charming readers, writers, and critics alike, the memoir won the Costa Award for Biography and made Athill, now ninety-one, a surprising literary star.

Diana Athill is one of the great editors in British publishing. For more than five decades she edited the likes of V. S. Naipaul and Jean Rhys, for whom she was a confidante and caretaker. As a writer, Athill has made her reputation for the frankness and precisely expressed wisdom of her memoirs. Now in her ninety-first year, "entirely untamed about both old and new conventions" (Literary Review) and freed from any of the inhibitions that even she may have once had, Athill reflects candidly, and sometimes with great humor, on the condition of being old—the losses and occasionally the gains that age brings, the wisdom and fortitude required to face death. Distinguished by "remarkable intelligence...[and the] easy elegance of her prose" (Daily Telegraph), this short, well-crafted book, hailed as "a virtuoso exercise" (Sunday Telegraph) presents an inspiring work for those hoping to flourish in their later years.

Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
To readers Athill delivers far more than modest pleasure: Her easy-going prose and startling honesty are riveting, for whither she has gone many of us will go as well…A refusal to sugar-coat and a commitment to utter frankness, coupled with an engaging style, make Diana Athill's Somewhere Towards the End unusually appealing, despite its inherently cheerless subject.
—The Washington Post
Dwight Garner
Ms. Athill's book is welcome and original because she is such a robust, free-thinking, nonmawkish presence on the page. She catalogs the indignities of old age while reminding us how much joy can be sucked out of a physically diminished life, joy that often comes from unexpected places…We are all amassing big stakes in our own ends, and Ms. Athill's frankness and good cheer in the face of that fact are comforting. Still, she hopes her own disappearance from this planet "does not come too soon." Anyone who's read her will be in complete agreement.
—The New York Times
Erica Jong
[Athill's] memoir is captivating because of her fearlessness of death, her sense that death is another adventure in her adventurous life.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

When it comes to facing old age, writes Athill, "there are no lessons to be learnt, no discoveries to be made, no solutions to offer." As the acclaimed British memoirist (who wrote about her experiences as a book editor in Stet) pushes past 90, she realizes that "there is not much on record on falling away" and resolves to set down some of her observations. She is bluntly unconcerned with conventional wisdom, unapologetically recounting her extended role as "the Other Woman" in her companion's prior marriage-then explaining how he didn't move in with her until after they'd stopped having sex, which is why it was no big deal for her to invite his next mistress to move in with them to save expenses. She is equally frank in discussing how, as their life turns "sad and boring," she copes with his declining health, just as she cared for her mother in her final years. Firmly resolute that no afterlife awaits her, Athill finds just enough optimism in this world to keep her reflections from slipping into morbidity-she may not offer much comfort, but it's a bracing read. (Jan.)

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Daily Mail
[A] little literary gem, penned by a marvelous, feisty old character whom, quite honestly, I’d just love to have as my grandmother…What a treasure.— Val Hennessy
The Irish Times
An astute editor, she writes with precision and clarity, using one word to convey an idea that a lesser writer might expand into a paragraph….[Athill is] an enlightened woman.— Mary Russell
San Francisco Chronicle
There is something terrifically comforting about a nonagenarian writing with clarity, wit and verve about getting old and facing death. . . . [Athill] evokes another grande dame of British letters in her uninhibited lifestyle and no-holds-barred, clarion voice: last year’s Nobel Prize winner, Doris Lessing.— N. Heller McAlpin
Los Angeles Times
A great gift. . . . This is a warm, inspiring book.— Susan Salter Reynolds
The Costa Award Judges
“A perfect memoir of old age—candid, detailed, charming, totally lacking in self-pity or sentimentality and above all, beautifully, beautifully written.”
The New York Times
Welcome and original.— Dwight Garner
The New York Times Book Review
She writes as a person of wide-ranging learning, a generalist, a lover of men and animals and a garden enthusiast, a person intoxicated with life.— Erica Jong
People
Bracingly frank…joyful rather than grim… she offers clear-eyed wisdom of the grandma-you-wish-you’d-had variety.
Salon
To paraphrase Shakespeare, wisdom is bred in neither the heart nor the head, but in the bones that carry us through the decades. A few very talented artists, like Diana Athill, may persuade their old bones to yield up a glimpse or two of what they’ve learned.— Laura Miller
Literary Review
Jean Rhys said that literature was a lake, and what mattered was to contribute to it, even if only a trickle. She contributed a narrow boiling river. Diana Athill has contributed a cool clear burn.— Carole Angier
Boston Globe
Athill writes…with clarity, calm, and common sense.— Barbara Fisher
Washington Post Book World
Unusually appealing. . . . To readers Athill delivers far more than modest pleasure: Her easy-going prose and startling honesty are riveting, for whither she has gone many of us will go as well.— Michael Dirda
The New Yorker
“A spry dispatch on the condition of being elderly.”
Financial Times
Life, not death, is her preoccupation…Reflections on old age, rather than on a long life lived are rare…It is rarer still for a woman to write such a book: so Athill’s candor and economic prose on religion, regrets, and sex are invigorating.— Emma Jacobs
Alice Munro
“An honest joy to read.”
Ann Hood
“With the wisdom of nine decades, Diana Athill gives us a memoir that faces aging unflinchingly. From the end of sexual desire to her thoughts and fears on dying and God, Athill deals with growing old with bravery, humor and honesty. What a woman! What a life! What a gorgeous book!”
Val Hennessy - Daily Mail
“[A] little literary gem, penned by a marvelous, feisty old character whom, quite honestly, I’d just love to have as my grandmother…What a treasure.”
Mary Russell - The Irish Times
“An astute editor, she writes with precision and clarity, using one word to convey an idea that a lesser writer might expand into a paragraph….[Athill is] an enlightened woman.”
Emma Jacobs - Financial Times
“Life, not death, is her preoccupation…Reflections on old age, rather than on a long life lived are rare…It is rarer still for a woman to write such a book: so Athill’s candor and economic prose on religion, regrets, and sex are invigorating.”
N. Heller McAlpin - San Francisco Chronicle
“There is something terrifically comforting about a nonagenarian writing with clarity, wit and verve about getting old and facing death. . . . [Athill] evokes another grande dame of British letters in her uninhibited lifestyle and no-holds-barred, clarion voice: last year’s Nobel Prize winner, Doris Lessing.”
Michael Dirda - Washington Post Book World
“Unusually appealing. . . . To readers Athill delivers far more than modest pleasure: Her easy-going prose and startling honesty are riveting, for whither she has gone many of us will go as well.”
Susan Salter Reynolds - Los Angeles Times
“A great gift. . . . This is a warm, inspiring book.”
Dwight Garner - The New York Times
“Welcome and original.”
Erica Jong - The New York Times Book Review
“She writes as a person of wide-ranging learning, a generalist, a lover of men and animals and a garden enthusiast, a person intoxicated with life.”
Laura Miller - Salon
“To paraphrase Shakespeare, wisdom is bred in neither the heart nor the head, but in the bones that carry us through the decades. A few very talented artists, like Diana Athill, may persuade their old bones to yield up a glimpse or two of what they’ve learned.”
Carole Angier - Literary Review
“Jean Rhys said that literature was a lake, and what mattered was to contribute to it, even if only a trickle. She contributed a narrow boiling river. Diana Athill has contributed a cool clear burn.”
Barbara Fisher - Boston Globe
“Athill writes…with clarity, calm, and common sense.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393076677
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
12/07/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
143,913
File size:
609 KB

What People are saying about this

Alice Munro
An honest joy to read.

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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Somewhere Towards the End 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
JoeyCS More than 1 year ago
A review of this book would definately depend on the age of the reader. Those over 55yr would relate & completely understand some the writers references, but younger readers may only feel compassion for the aging woman. Either way it is well written & you often forget the age of the author. I liked her personality and hope I am that literate at her age!!
Peddada More than 1 year ago
A Magnificently Wise Memoir I cannot presume to review the ultimate reviewer. It is with deep humility that I offer only a personal recommendation on this magnificently wise memoir. Diana Athill writes her memoir with brutal candor, brevity and poise about the inevitable, a destiny reserved for everyone. Her prose, lyrical and sanguine, fashioned upon the editorial anvil that has polished the likes of V.S. Naipaul, thwarts all sentimentality and romanticist propensities. She paints her trials and tribulations of aging into a mirror, in which we see ourselves. It is a catharsis on her sexuality with impish admissions, and the acceptance of sexual dissolution as she travels past the point of no return in her late middle-age. Writing about utterly personal experiences is a sign of comfort with self; particularly, all those weaknesses that the rest of us spend our life trying to keep in the closet. Here in this book, she expounds on the virtue of acceptance of these foibles that we all possess and live fulfilling lives. The book is replete with nuggets of wisdom on various experiences from sexuality, caring for others and their medical maladies, parents' mortality, independence and driving, creative work, having no children to gardening distractions, and most of all, the morality of living. Memoir is a favorite format of mine, especially in the first person. A deft writer like Ms. Athill can open the doors and give us a privileged peek into the labyrinths of her personality and her life. The murky depths of personal experiences of others often reflect our own ironies and offer a comforting affirmation and corroboration of the path we all will follow. Here the author, a lifelong editor of manuscripts and purveyor of proper usage, illustrates her insecurities and inadequacies in an earnest, unadorned and unpretentious prose, interestingly rendering herself strong and content, ready for the last station in life. It is a poignant, yet joyous read in celebration of what we are, and not what we aught to be. I recommend this wonderfully enlightening memoir with utter sincerity. Raju Peddada
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can add nothing to the review herein by Mr Padada; it is spot on. I'll go on to read her other Nook books now.
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Absolutely scattered and full of uninteresting chapters in the author's life. I bought this book on the basis of a review. I will definately make sure that person's opinion does not influence me again. I've stuck out some bad books, but this one lost me half way through. It won't be joining my library.
sad More than 1 year ago
This book was given a very positive review in People magazine. It was purchased based on the positive review; however, the person who review the book must have read only the first six pages. I wouldn't spend the money on the book--get it from a library if you want it read it.
Fast-Eddie More than 1 year ago
At age 80 I tried my best to read on but I gave up about half way thru.