Somewhere Towards The End
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Somewhere Towards The End

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  919 ratings  ·  256 reviews
This book tells the story of what it means to be old: how the pleasure of sex ebbs, how the joy of gardening grows, how much there is to remember, to forget, to regret, to forgive - and how one faces the inevitable fact of death.
Paperback, 182 pages
Published December 1st 2008 by Granta Books (UK) (first published 2008)
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Petra SockieX
Diana Athill, a top British editor, wrote this short reflection on life and how it might end for her when she was 89. The writing is stunning, every sentence is perfectly-crafted and thoughful. Short as it is, however, its not short enough: the brilliance of the writing is not enough to overcome the tedium of the subject illuminated only occasionally by the witty recounting of stories and unusual characters. I don't often feel disappointed in myself if I didn't enjoy the book, but here I feel th...more
Caroline
It took me a bit of courage to approach this book, in the same way it is taking me a bit of courage to approach old age. It’s so much easier to switch off and act as if it isn’t going to happen. But I am sixty-one, and whilst I feel middle-aged, I am also aware that old age is somewhere round the corner. It’s getting a bit too close for comfort.

I needn’t have worried. This is the most amazing book for anyone who is on the path towards old age to read. What an intelligent, original and insightfu...more
Rebecca Foster
This wonderful memoir of old age is delightful from the first sentences onwards (pugs always help):

"Near the park which my bedroom overlooks there came to stay a family which owned a pack of pugs, five or six of them, active little dogs, none of them overweight as pugs so often are. I saw them recently on their morning walk, and they caused me a pang. I have always wanted a pug and now I can’t have one, because buying a puppy when you are too old to take it for walks is unfair."

Athill (who is st...more
Tom Mayer
This is an extraordinary book about aging and flourishing in your later years. Athill, now 91, was once a top-flight editor in England working with writers like Naipaul and Jean Rhys. She has written several memoirs, each more brilliant than the last. She is truly an editor's writer, in that she gets more done in half a sentence than the rest of us can manage in a paragraph. This particular memoir, which was heavily praised in England, is a finalist for the Costa Prize (formerly the Whitbread Aw...more
Letha
Sometimes a book comes along that so perfectly fits your concept of life as it is and as it will be that you feel you must talk about it -- and that you must convince all your friends to read it. This is such a book.

At age 89, Diana Athill has written a moving and thoughtful memoir on what it means to grow old as an atheist and as a single woman. Athill writes beautifully, with no frills or fancies, and she has an honest approach to the end that we all face.
Bookmarks Magazine

Somewhere Towards the End isn't the first book to describe in detail the process of "falling away," the author's apt euphemism for the decline one experiences in old age. Critics compare Athill's memoir to John Bayley's Elegy for Iris and Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck, or the fiction of Philip Roth, Alice Munro, and John Updike. But Athill writes with a nothing-to-lose attitude that brings dignity to a process so often marked by the inevitable slowing of the mind and the deterioration o

...more
Lobstergirl
In this very slender end-of-life memoir Athill, a former esteemed editor with publishing house Andre Deutsch, reflects on aging and death, good deaths and bad, physical infirmities, her lack of husband or children (she was always the Other Woman), her lovers, sex life and end thereof, elderly driving mishaps, and why at age 89 she no longer reads fiction. (A feature I've noticed in other senior citizens too. Perhaps they're onto something.) She is a good writer, whose writing is put to better us...more
Jim
I think I really should read more books by women. When they are written by fully-realized individuals such as Diana Athill, they round out the Mephistophelean male impulse with a certain je ne sais quoi. (For the time being, it must remain so because, being irreparably a male, I am inhibited from expressing the full range of human emotions.)

As I lifted the book off the shelf at the Santa Monica Public Library, I thought, "This looks like an interesting book about living at an advanced age." What...more
Catherine
I grew to love Diana Athill by the end of this work - the later chapters are wonderful reflections on the things that have made her elder years fulfilling and enjoyable. Her ability to adapt, to seize upon new ideas and experiences, to modify her expectations to meet the abilities in her body - all were wonderful to consider.

Yet the early chapters of the book were a real stumbling block for me. Athill's remembrances of her early life are not particularly gripping, nor are her reflections insight...more
Joseph McNally
You will read few books where the first thing you do on finishing is Google the author's name to see if she/he is still alive.

Diana wrote this when she was 89. It is worth reading for the quality of the writing alone; the wisdom and entertainment are a beautiful bonus.

Miss Athill's life seems a fine example of the maxim that says, it isn't what happens to you that matters, it's your attitude to it. The big adaption she makes, in my opinion,is to Barry, her long term partner/friend/flatmate. We a...more
Alan Shaw
This short elegantly written book is part memoir and part observation about the onset of old age. The author – still very much with us I’m glad to say - was born in 1917 and wrote it when she was 87.
There is nothing ‘old’ about her style, and her memory and famous sense of humour are on top form. A great strength is the ability to describe both early and much later episodes of her life with tremendous honesty and clarity, and not to flinch from recounting events that do not necessarily show her...more
Judith
Do you ever wonder what really old people think about death? As baby-boomers age, it will become increasingly interesting to have a variety of perspectives on death. Not the kind presented by people whose lives are suddenly cut tragically short by a terminal illness, but a memoir from a really articulate person about facing the end of one's life with grace. This book is just the ticket. The author was born in 1917, and she is just delightful. She is a retired book editor living in London with he...more
Ron
Athill, perhaps the British book publishing industry's most famous editor (thanks in part to her earlier memoirs) reflects on her imminent death, freely admitting she has "no lessons to be learnt, no discoveries to be made, no solutions to offer." And no apologies, either: She writes unflinchingly about how her relationship with her longtime companion began during his previous marriage, and how they had already stopped having sex by the time he left his wife and moved in with her--and that's why...more
Andreww
Somewhere Toward The End - Diana Athill

As usual I arrive late to things. Diana Athill’s book, Somewhere Toward The End is a gorgeous analysis of what it’s like to be close to the end. She stares into the abyss from her position 89 years into the journey on Planet Earth and offers back reflections and wisdom on the experience so far.

She has had a fascinating life, but it is not the hint of celebrity’s met, famous writer’s supported or places been to that impresses. It is the sheer clarity in expl...more
Helen
Jun 10, 2009 Helen rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Helen by: NYT Book Review
I didn't finish this book. Once again all I needed to read and wanted to read was in the NYT Book Review. I was hoping for a take on how elderly people feel when their lives begin to disappear. This woman, who was ninety when she wrote the book, had written a passage about how it felt to give up driving. It was very moving. So I thought she would be all insight to understanding this transition.

As it turns out all she wanted to do was tell you about her younger life, how many men she had slept wi...more
Paula Maguire
I had read so much about this book - only praise and thought it might give me some insight into what it's like to be old - It did, but nothing too deep. Some aspects of thinking about how you want to live to see a plant/ child grow - how will your time come. Looking back and appreciating your life. She did make the point that a life sharpened by education was beneficial in old age as there were so many places to escape the written word. Unfortunately mum doesn't have this and positivity is also...more
Ed
Mar 02, 2009 Ed rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone curious about their inevitable decline.
I think I let my expectations get in the way of truly enjoying this book. I had read some very positive reviews praising the frankness and honesty of Athill's description of her declining years.

I found the book's so-called frankness to be somewhat boring. It seemed to always come back to her sexual experiences.

Her description of her declining faculties depressed me. Maybe because my own are declining and I'd rather not read about other people's struggles with sore feet, etc. I've got my own sor...more
Patrick
It might just reflect my choice of reading matter, but I've not encountered many accounts of what it is like to be really old - late Philip Roth perhaps, and not much else. This was a considerably more uplifting book than anything Roth has written recently, while not flinching from the depredations of extreme old age. Highlight for me were her thoughts on how the novel had evolved since she first started picking up her parents' old paperbacks to flick through in her teens, back in the early 1930...more
Ali

Somewhere towards the end is a touching and intelligent memoir, by a woman still highly astute well into her nineties. Diana Athill writes about what many older people really think about. She remembers old lovers, some from not that long ago, discusses religion, death and how it felt to become a writer unexpectedly. This is a lovely, readable memoir, it is never depressing, melancholic or self-pitying. Diana Athill comes across as the sort of older woman I would want to be in many ways - eminent...more
Catherine
Most of the essays were written when Athill was eighty-nine years old and focus on aging and Athill's reflections and feelings as she enters the likely future--let's face it--end of her life.

This book got many raving reviews. I wish I could say it knocked me out, but it really didn't. Although I'd probably give it 2-1/2 stars if I could. I found most of the chapters rambling with frequent diversions from the subject, and for the most part, a bit dull. Perhaps my expectations were just too high d...more
Claire Peal
Amazing. My admiration for Athill is immense. To deal with the often taboo topic of old age in such an interesting, inspiring ( often very moving) way explains why I read this book in less than 24 hours. Her candid style is so refreshing and whilst i know so few of her references it makes not the slightest impact on my enjoyment of this book. I have come away with books I want to read, things I feel motivated to do, affirmation of my own beliefs and a strong desire to ring my mum. A must read an...more
David Gee
This award-winning autobiography came my way from a ladyfriend. But for her I might have missed a great literary treat. Published when the author was 89, this is Diana Athill's sixth book of memoirs. In other volumes she covered her 50-year career in publishing, working with Andre Deutsch and dealing with authors such as Roth, Updike, Mailer and Jean Rhys.

In this short volume, Athill looks back through a long life and a fairly long list of lovers. She never married after an early 'disappointment...more
SaraJayne
This book was odd. I'm still not entirely sure what I think about it.

The cover says it's a memoir; it also says it's won the Costa Biography Award. It's not a biography, because it's written by the person it's about. It's not a memoir, either, because it's not really telling her story as such. She does throw stories of hers in, but it's rather hodge podge. Mostly it's supposed to be a book about what getting and being old is like, written from the viewpoint of an 89-year-old; that's what she te...more
Miranda
The review on the back of the cover of the copy I read said something about how Athill feels like an old (no pun intended) friend after reading this, and that is exactly how I felt. The subject matter has the potential to be quite intense and gloomy but something about Athill was, to me, so intrinsically likeable. The discussions of her interactions with death interspersed with comments on her gardening and her family friends all made this such an interesting book for someone like who had never...more
Jean
Engaging and thought-provoking musings and memoirs from a unique individual.
David Gee
This award-winning autobiography came my way from a ladyfriend. But for her I might have missed a great literary treat. Published when the author was 89, this is Diana Athill's sixth book of memoirs. In other volumes she covered her 50-year career in publishing, working with Andre Deutsch and dealing with authors such as Roth, Updike, Mailer and Jean Rhys.

In this short volume, Athill looks back through a long life and a fairly long list of lovers. She never married after an early 'disappointment...more
Carolyn
It is supposed to be comforting to realize that many life experiences are shared by most other people, but there is nothing comforting about reading that we all have the same fears of old-age and there is really nothing that can be done about it. It's going to be messy. I agree with the author that we just have to cope and work it out as we go along. Otherwise, this is far from a depressing account of growing old. (Part of a multi-volume memoir, this book was written several years ago and I've r...more
Manda
I think anyone who is beginning to realise that old age is actually going to happen to them (people like me perhaps, who find that the age of 50 is not in the distant future any more, but just round the corner) should read this book. It is a hopeful book, for all that it mentions the limitations of old age. Not that we could all write a book in our 80's, let alone several, but the knowledge that it is possible to discover new delights in old age is reassuring.

The reason why I have given this bo...more
Joanne
I liked this book, but I kept thinking that someone who writes at age 89 about what it is like to be old ought to have more to say. It is a slim volume with only 182 pages, but she knows her way around words. I read it to try and relate to how it was for my mother as she aged and also for myself even though I am much younger than Diana Athill. She writes about many of the things that change when one gets to be old (although for many, it happens at an age younger than 89) like no longer driving,...more
Tiffany
I admired Diana Athill after I read Stet, her memoir about her fifty years in book publishing. I knew she was quite old now but still kicking, and I was pleased to find out that she had written a book about the experience of aging.

While the book was at times a tad unfocused, I didn't mind; I enjoyed where Athill chose to wander off into other topics of discussion, such as examples of death and illness as experienced by family and friends. While the structure of the book may have been questionab...more
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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
More about Diana Athill...
Stet: An Editor's Life Instead of a Letter: A Memoir Yesterday Morning After A Funeral Life Class: The Selected Memoirs

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“An important aspect of the ebbing of sex was that other things became interesting. Sex obliterates the individuality of young women more often than it does that of young men, because so much more of a woman than a man is used by sex.” 6 likes
“I am not sure that digging in our past guilts is a useful occupation for the very old, given that one can do so little about them. I have reached a stage at which one hopes to be forgiven for concentrating on how to get through the present.” 4 likes
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