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Letters to a Friend

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  82 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
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, an ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 16th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 2011)
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This is the second book I have read by Diana Athill in three months, and what a joy it was.

It consists of a collection of her letters - over thirty years of correspondence with the American poet Edward Field. The letters started when she was eighty-four. This was a late-blossoming friendship and all the more appreciated because of that. They began quite formally, with her addressing him as “Dear Mr. Field”, and when they ended, when she was ninety, she was addressing him “Darling” and “Darling
Rebecca Foster
In this companion piece to her wonderful memoirs, Athill gives one side (hers) of her correspondence with American poet Edward Field. Their correspondence began in 1981, after Field made an enquiry to Athill, at André Deutsch publishing house (where she worked as an editor for over 40 years), about reviving their mutual friend Alfred Chester’s publications. As the letters progress, “Dear Mr. Field” quickly becomes “Darling Edward” and “Dearest Edward.”

It was an unlikely friendship in some ways:
I don’t ordinarily read collections of letters, but Diana Athill is such good company. It’s amazing to be able to follow her first-person writing--memoirs and letters--over such a long period of time. By now illness has replaced sex as a preoccupation, and it’s interesting to learn how she deals with the vicissitudes of aging; at one point, for instance, she has broken off two of her remaining teeth and in her wait for treatment becomes depressed and considers Prozac, but turns to Trollope inste ...more
Lee Kofman
I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this collection of letters. Their total really didn’t amount to a book… While the book paints a poignant picture of what it is like to get older, I found a lot of the material repetitive or too mundane to be interesting. Athill's voice is lovely even in these letters but the clever sentences didn’t compensate – for me at least – for the overall tedium. I think sometimes when people turn too famous they should become particularly discerning as to what they publi ...more
Judith Hannan
May 22, 2012 Judith Hannan rated it it was ok
I liked Somewhere Towards the End, but I did not like Letters to a Friend. I thought it diminished Athill. These are just ordinary letters filled with ordinary thoughts. Which is fine, but not as a book. It felt petty. Perhaps in another form they would have felt weightier, but here they weren't too far removed from listening in on a one-sided phone conversation. I was often confused because the reader is privy to ony a one-way conversation. Any book--whether it is fiction, memoir, biography, yo ...more
Jeff Howells
Feb 18, 2015 Jeff Howells rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read a collection of Diana Athill's a few years ago, enjoyed them a lot so picked this one up. I fear this is a genre of book than with the rise of social media will totally disappear in a generation's time. It's a collection of letters written to an American friend and frankly it's excellent. Like all good letters it informative & gossipy but the thing it's done most is make me really think about growing old and dying. There is a quote in the book that says "Obsession with health can easi ...more
Sue Uden
Mar 24, 2012 Sue Uden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On the first page of the book under 'Praise for Diana Athill' the quote from The Observer reads 'There is a sense throughout Athill's work that you are making a new friend'. And reading these letters felt just like that to me. My only consolation that I have finished them now is that I have 'Stet' waiting in my TBR and I fully intend to lay my hands on every other word she has written. She has also made me curious about the recipient of her letters, Edward Field, about whom I know nothing. So I ...more
I find myself smiling when I read Athill's work. She seems like a rare person, who is grateful for everything and full of optimism and enthusiasm. Also one hell of a friend - she is the type who will stick by until death. She's exactly what I would want in a friend. I think this book may be a bore or irrelevant to many, but for some reason it is just to my taste.
Jul 13, 2013 Carolyn rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those who like letters & memoirs
Recommended to Carolyn by: saw it on the bookshelf at B&N
I love reading letters. Athill had already thrown away her correspondent's letters when he had the idea of publishing them as a book. Awkward? I could really relate to her frustrations with computers and the aging process. Lots of good stuff about the National Health system. I liked this enough that I want to read her books now.
Jun 14, 2012 Tock rated it liked it
So I honestly didn't think I would care for the book. The book is entirely all letters to her friend, Edward. But I guess it's just pure curiosity and what next that kept me interested. And being there was no set chapters, just letters, this book was easy to keep in the car and grab when I had time to kill.
Kathleen Smith
May 24, 2012 Kathleen Smith rated it really liked it
So far I am just beginning this Novel. I love books that delve into conversations in letter, email, etc. It brings a new dimension to the writing.. So here I go-wish me luck. My friend stole it from me and will not give it back. She loves it. So as soon as I get it back I will be attacking it.
Bernadette Jansen op de Haar
Wonderful example of how 'old-fashioned' letters can tell a story and bring characters to life. Even more fascinating because the letters represent only one half of the conversation. Same to think that this will no longer work in this era of email conversations.
May 27, 2012 Hazel rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
reading her letters was fun as she is witty & funny, but i would have liked it better if edward's letters were included as it would have given the reader a clearer picture of the kind of interesting banter that went on between them
Lynn Kearney
Sep 18, 2012 Lynn Kearney rated it really liked it
Some of the material is familiar to readers of her other books, especially Somewhere Towards the End, but it's an engaging read nonetheless; she's such an interesting woman and she writes so very well.
Mary Lou
This is a collection of letters writen by Diana Athill to her friend, poet Edward Field. This interesting and often surprising set is enough to make me want to read more of her memoirs
Pat Garmer
May 08, 2012 Pat Garmer rated it liked it
I won this book in a Firstreads giveaway. A glaringly honest look at life presented in the format of letters written to a friend over a period of many years. This was an interesting book.
Jan 25, 2013 Kara rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
The story is told through letters written to a friend. It was a little different to read, but interesting. I won this through the GoodReads giveaways!
Jun 22, 2012 Mooch rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book in a First Reads giveaway.

A collection of letters the author wrote to her friend Edward. Not typically my thing, but you get interested.
Jean-christophe Brunet
Feb 26, 2013 Jean-christophe Brunet rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
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Diana Athill was born in Norfolk in 1917 and educated at home until she was fourteen. She read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and graduated in 1939. She spent the war years working at the BBC Overseas Service in the News Information Department. After the war she met André Deutsch and fell into publishing. She worked as an editor, first at Allan Wingate and then at André Deutsch, until her r ...more
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