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Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter

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In the near-decade since her prize-winning memoir Somewhere Towards the End became a surprise New York Times bestseller, Diana Athill has become one of the world’s preeminent voices on aging. Arriving on the eve of Diana’s ninety-eighth birthday, her new memoir is as thrilling and unsentimental as her most beloved work. An introduction locates Diana in the present day, ensconced in her cozy room in a home for the elderly in Highgate, London. In precise, elegant, and utterly beguiling prose, Diana begins to reflect on the things that matter after a lifetime of remarkable experiences, and the memories that have risen to the surface and sustain her. The textures of her memories remain vivid. Arranged chronologically, her chapters chart a variety of events—from the bucolic pleasures of her grandmother’s garden to her harrowing experience as an expectant mother in her forties, to the joys and challenges encountered at every stage of life.

176 pages, Hardcover

First published January 4, 2016

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About the author

Diana Athill

46 books174 followers
Diana Athill was a British literary editor, novelist and memoirist who worked with some of the greatest writers of the 20th century at the London-based publishing company André Deutsch Ltd.

She 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 retirement at the age of 75 in 1993.

Her books include An Unavoidable Delay, a collection of short stories published in 1962 and two 'documentary' books After A Funeral and Make Believe. Stet is a memoir of Diana Athill's fifty-year career in publishing. Granta has also reissued a memoir Instead of a Letter and her only novel Don't Look at Me Like That. She lived in Primrose Hill in London.

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5 stars
264 (28%)
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351 (37%)
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250 (26%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 197 reviews
February 7, 2017
Athill is nearly a 100 years old, she's sharp, funny and as she says of making friends in old age, you make friends not on what you are doing, or on what you might do together, but on stories. And here she shares stories of her life. And life now for her in an old-age home, which she loves. No more housework or grocery shopping and lots of friends!

The saddest story in the book if of the miscarriage when she was 43 of her only child. It is quite harrowing to read as she nearly died, but the ending is unexpected. She didn't grieve for the lost child but gave thanks for being alive.

The funniest story is the stalker on a tiny, isolated beach where she was alone. Footsteps getting closer, crunch, crunch. Ever closer, crunch crunch. In fear and trembling she looks around and there he is !

But the end-of-life story that utterly charmed me was how she gets to sleep at night, and not just her alone, rather than counting sheep she says, “What I do is run through all the men I ever went to bed with." Sweet dreams, Diana!

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
December 13, 2015
Please, please let me be like this wonderful woman when I am 98. Let me remember things with the descriptive qualities and clarity as she does. Her grandmother's garden described beautifully, post war conditions and trips she took. Expecting her first child, feelings about being pregnant and so much more all described in incredible details. Amazing, so please, please.
Profile Image for Caroline.
503 reviews562 followers
March 4, 2018
This my third Diana Athill book - all of them written when she was over eighty - in fact she was ninety-six when she wrote this one. And what a joyous, invigorating, sharp and enchanting read it is..... It consists of a series of essays on different aspects and periods of her life. She is such an original and sassy human being, and she shines a brilliant light on all sorts of different things, in a way that must surely resonate with everyone. I wish I was drinking champagne rather than coffee - she so definitely deserves a toast.... Bravo Athill! I think you're fab.

I will end with a few of my favourite quotes.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,575 followers
September 27, 2018
Update: Last night I was lucky enough to see 98-year-old literary legend Diana Athill live in London. Here’s my blog write-up of the event. (Psssssst! I have the dirt on a forthcoming publication – and here I thought this would be her last book for sure.)

Apart from “Dead Right,” this collection is not primarily concerned with imminent death. Athill is still grateful to be alive, marvelling at a lifetime of good luck and health and taking joy in gardening, clothing, books, memories and friendships. Six of the 10 essays originally appeared elsewhere. The collection highlight is the title piece, about a miscarriage Athill suffered in her forties. Another stand-out is “The Decision,” about moving into a Highgate retirement home in her nineties. (3.5)

See my full review at Nudge.

[I’ve read all of Athill’s work, even her obscure novel and story collection. This doesn’t live up to her best memoirs, but it’s an essential read for a devoted fan. For readers new to her work, I’d recommend starting with Somewhere Towards the End, followed by Stet, about her work as a literary editor.]
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,254 reviews451 followers
October 2, 2016
Excellent! IF I make it to the age of 98, this lady is my role model. She lived life by her own rules, made the decision to go into a retirement home at 93 so as not to be a burden to friends and relatives, and still lives the way she chooses, limited only by her body. Still writing, still sharp, no regrets.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews14 followers
December 11, 2015


Description: Stephanie Cole reads from the new collection of essays by acclaimed writer Diana Athill, which is being published to mark the author's 98th birthday later on this month.

Written from the vantage point of her late nineties, Athill's essays are wise, cheering and thought-provoking. They range from gentle (her love of beautiful clothes), heartbreaking (the miscarriage of a much-wanted child) to salutary (her difficult decision to relinquish her independence and move into a care home).

In this first essay, "Post-War", Athill delights in debunking the myth that Britain in the 1940s and 1950s was a mire of dreariness. A young woman when the war broke out, peace and its aftermath was a time of joy, freedom and optimism.

2: she describes with total candour her miscarriage in 1960, aged 43, when she nearly lost her life

3: In "The Decision", she explains the process by which she relinquished her independence and moved into a residential care home in north London.

4: Dead Right

5: A Life of Luxuries
Profile Image for Julie.
553 reviews276 followers
March 14, 2018
I have no idea in the world how I came to read this book: it must have jumped into my book bag at the library for I have no recollection of wanting it, let alone getting it. Hmmm. It seems that Athill is sharper at 100 than I am at my age!

It was an enjoyable, quick read. Humorous, sad, charming. A life well lived and someone to spin a good tale out of it.

Profile Image for Sarah.
153 reviews35 followers
July 17, 2016
This was a thoroughly enjoyable book of memoir essays written by literary giant Diana Athill. Athill is now 98 years old and lives in a retirement home in Highgate, London. The essays covered a surprising variety of topics, everything from her childhood memories, post-war Britain, colonialism, miscarriage and abortion, and of course, aging and death.

I wasn't sure what to expect of it when I picked it up. It came recommended to me, but I'd never read any of Athill's books before. I am, however, a big fan of many of the writers she has worked closely with in her publishing and editing career. (Seriously, it is hard to top a list like Margaret Atwood, Simone de Beauvoir, Philip Roth, Jack Kerouac, and John Updike.)

Athill has had ample opportunity to enjoy the finer things in life, and she is 100% aware of her privilege. One of the most memorable essays in this collection is her trip to Trinidad and Tobago, in which she discusses colonialism, racism, and privilege in a way that I wouldn't expect of a woman born in 1917. No offense, white women, but we don't have the best record with being aware of our privilege. Her language was powerful and struck me as someone who is truly empathetic and interested in the world around her.

I also enjoyed her personal essays where she discusses her decision to not have children, including her discussion of abortion and miscarriage. She has an open perspective on many women's issues and isn't afraid to discuss them in frank terms. I was definitely expecting more mushy material on aging in this collection, but was pleasantly surprised to find her writing to still be fresh and emotional. Her discussion of death and choosing to live in a retirement home of her own volition struck me as extremely rational, and her writing lends an important voice to our discussion of aging, death, and fear of dying.

I definitely recommend this collection. It's a short read, only about 170 pages, and the essays are light, yet thought-provoking and full of substance and emotion. Diana Athill has lived a full and fulfilling life without many regrets, and her openness and frankness to discussing her life decisions and emotions is a perspective we can all benefit from.
Profile Image for Sophy H.
1,243 reviews61 followers
December 4, 2020
This book was surprisingly fascinating.

You don't expect the musings of a 97 year old woman to reference abortion or extra-marital affairs with wanton abandon!

Diana Athill was an interesting creature. I looked it up and she lived to age 101!!

At 97, she wrote this gem of a book after deciding for herself to enter a retirement home for "the active elderly". How refreshing a title is that?! Not a nursing home where everyone sits round dribbling into their tommy tippee cups of lukewarm ovaltine, but a place where residents still drive, attend the theatre, attend classes and ultimately still LIVE LIFE.

Her observations on life are by turns humorous, saddening, realistic, idealistic, saucy, reserved. She is, like most of us, a walking dichotomy of opinion and values. But that is what makes her so interesting to read. Here is a woman, born in 1917, who makes no bones about getting an abortion, and when gets pregnant in her 40's (to a married man!) then subsequently miscarries the baby, just carries on and regards the loss as a blessing in disguise. The married man in question she continues to have a relationship with for over 40 years, but she is not for marrying herself.

The theme of this book I suppose is living life and being truly present. Athill remembers and reminisces over her past but also celebrates what she can enjoy right now, the sights, smells, sounds, experiences and friendships.

She is lucky to have got to her age without any sign of senility setting in, or major health issues, and she acknowledges her lucky position throughout.

I think one of my favourite passages in the book is this:-

"Looking at things is never time wasted....... When I was marvelling at the beauty of a painting or enjoying a great view it did not occur to me that the experience, however intense, would be of value many years later. But there it has remained, tucked away in hidden bits of my mind, and now out it comes,...... to make a very old woman's idle days pleasant instead of boring"................
Profile Image for Laura.
6,869 reviews556 followers
December 11, 2015
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
Stephanie Cole reads from the new collection of essays by acclaimed writer Diana Athill, which is being published to mark the author's 98th birthday later on this month.

Written from the vantage point of her late nineties, Athill's essays are wise, cheering and thought-provoking. They range from gentle (her love of beautiful clothes), heartbreaking (the miscarriage of a much-wanted child) to salutary (her difficult decision to relinquish her independence and move into a care home).

In this first essay, "Post-War", Athill delights in debunking the myth that Britain in the 1940s and 1950s was a mire of dreariness. A young woman when the war broke out, peace and its aftermath was a time of joy, freedom and optimism.

Photo credit: Mark Crick

Written by Diana Athill

Read by Stephanie Cole

Abridged and Produced by Kirsteen Cameron.

Profile Image for Jane.
1,136 reviews1 follower
July 25, 2016
I loved this book. The writer, Diana Athill, is 99 years old, and she writes like a thirty year old---that kind of clarity and beauty and spark. Her subjects aren't always young people's subjects, but oh, I'd love to visit her and discover her secrets. How does she know how to nail racism and classism as she describes a trip as a tourist to Trinidad and Tobago? Who in her class and generation understood this? Over and over I was dazzled by her brilliance as a writer and a human being. She writes: These people furnish your dream.

And while they do--this is something you don't always notice, although you certainly should--you are furnishing theirs. Your money, your mobility, your education, your house, your clothes, you food, your books, they are dreaming of all of this and they want to live in that dream more passionately, and with far better reason, than you want to live in yours. (Share this whole chapter with Pamela Maisey)

Athill says that life teaches you things, if you have loving parents, are spared extreme poverty and equipped with a reasonable amount of natural wit, life will probably teach you useful things. Her two valuable lessons: avoid romanticism and abhor possessiveness.
720 reviews27 followers
February 10, 2018
I like to wander through the library, just to see what's on the shelves. Yesterday, I had the good luck to find a book by Diana Athill, so I nabbed it. Always worth reading, she's such a good writer. I read this all in one sitting, because it's brief, but more because she's so good you don't want to stop. Don't miss the poem at the very end, and even the acknowledgements page is a pleasure worth your time. In fact, you might turn to that page first, to get a sense of how the book came to be in your hands.

P.S. The Friends of the Library was having a sale, four books for one dollar. So I picked up some fun finds, including a biography of San Francisco's beloved Emperor Norton, and Grace Jones' memoir, entitled, "I will never write my memoirs." Fun with serendipity!

Profile Image for Katie.
1,119 reviews53 followers
January 8, 2020
A 2nd memoir by the elderly former British book editor Diana Athill, about aging.

This one was more focused on her choice to enter a nursing home willingly (rather than kicking-and-screaming). More thoughts and musings about the aging process, fearing/not fearing death, living life in the past, regrets, life choices, etc. Food for thought. This one I found a little less interesting than her previous memoir, just because it included a long chapter with in-depth detail about her grandfather's estate and gardens, which I didn't find all that engrossing (although there were some interesting historical tidbits in there).

There's an amusing scene of her and 3 other old ladies in the nursing home who wanted to start a garden, and the other more spry old lady friends who were supposed to do the actual digging & planting didn't show up. So they did it themselves even though she said they were all very hobbled and couldn't get up from the ground (they had to help each other up) and it took forever. She said it was pretty comical but THEY DID IT! Teamwork.
Profile Image for Damian.
Author 13 books287 followers
February 19, 2019
Re-reading this was like a visit with Diana. It's her funeral this week and her words, on and off the page, will be ringing in my head.
Profile Image for Amanda Brookfield.
Author 25 books82 followers
February 20, 2016
Diana Athill was born in 1917. This means, she is at least (I don't know her actual birthday) 98 years old. And she is still writing books!!! Not just okay-ish books, but excellent ones, filled with warmth and wisdom and a directness of tone that makes me sit up and listen, no matter what she is talking about.

'Alive, Alive Oh!' is the latest product from this remarkable woman, an addition to the archive of wonderful memoirs that began with 'Stet', written after an acclaimed career as an editor with Andre Deutsch. 'Alive, Alive Oh!' is a bit gentler than its predecessors, in that there is less focus on her always interesting personal exploits and more reflection on things like the huge and beautiful gardens of her grandparents' home, Ditchingham Hall. But all her writing sparkles, whether it is descriptive or dramatic, and I think this is not just because of the acuteness of her perceptions, but the humility and gratitude with which she expresses them. Not even the miscarriage (in her early forties) of the unplanned baby she had decided to keep, gets her down. She was sad, of course, she explains, but also greatly - selfishly - relieved. Such honesty is rare and deeply engaging. One is left with the abiding impression of a woman with no edges, no hidden agendas. Diana Athill simply adores the business of being alive and this lights up every aspect of her prose.

Yet Death holds no fear for her either. In fact, anyone worrying about the life hereafter - or lack of it - should be advised to read this book. Athill writes that the world spun well enough, and without her being aware of it, before she came into being, and so assumes that the same state of affairs will prevail after she has gone. Such commonsense! How can one not be persuaded as well as delighted?

In fact, the only problem I have with Diana Athill is that she has scuppered my own - albeit distant - writing 'retirement' plans. I had always imagined I would give up one day, you see, to drift instead in a fug of allowable indolence, free from the novelist's challenge of trying to make sense of the world and graft it into stories. But now the achievements of Diana Athill make such thoughts seem shaming. For, as well as writing books, she continues to have a rich social and cultural life, surrounded by people of similar energies and a like-mind. In one chapter she describes how they all spent an afternoon planting rose-bushes. Life may tire her more - after the gardening she confessed to being exhausted - but she is still going at it full pelt.

So thanks, Diana Athill, for showing me that a possible forty-five years more work and hectic living beckons! You make me very happy.
Profile Image for Ali.
1,242 reviews337 followers
December 23, 2017
Diana Athill is best known now for her memoirs and short stories, though she began her career in publishing. Working as an editor with Andre Deutsch – one of the founders of the company, through a fifty-year career she worked with some of the biggest names in literature. Her book Stet – which I received recently, is the memoir about that work, and the people she met and worked with. I am looking forward to reading that.

“My two valuable lessons are: avoid romanticism and abhor possessiveness.”

Alive, Alive Oh! was published in Diana Athill’s ninety eighth year, and in this work while dipping into the past as she does in all her books, she also considers what it is like to grow old. She reflects on what it is that stays with one in memory, having already lived a very long life. Surprisingly it isn’t the things you might imagine. She has found herself recalling places visited, things once experienced are remembered with great fondness. She remembers the grounds of the family home. In beautifully descriptive prose she recalls a grandmother’s garden, a memory of place which increasingly sustains her.

(Incidentally, it is worth pointing out to anyone who has yet to read anything by Dina Athill, that her memoirs are neither written or published chronologically, so it is perfectly possible to start anywhere).

“The terrace felt more like house than garden because one stepped out onto it so easily, and after breakfast Gran used to sit on its stone steps while she brushed Lola, her poodle. It was a place for civilised behaviour, where we interacted with our grown-ups more than in most places. The urns that stood at intervals on its wall has been brought back from Italy by Gramps, and small pink roses, with a lot of heavily scented honeysuckle, clambered over the walls – on summer evenings, through the bedroom windows overlooking the terrace there used to come delicious waves of honeysuckle.”

Recalling her visits to Europe and Tobago, the friends she made – and experiences as a traveller.

In the title chapter, Diana talks honestly and quite harrowingly about the miscarriage she suffered when she was in her forties. Having decided years before that she didn’t want children – she considered a termination, she had done it before – but something changed.

Full review: https://heavenali.wordpress.com/2017/...
Profile Image for Kathryn Bashaar.
Author 2 books87 followers
April 22, 2016
The book I read right before this one was aimed at teenagers. This books was written by a woman in her 90s. That made for a bit of a change!
I enjoyed these essays very much, and I am astounded Athill's lucidity at her advanced age. These essays says are crisp, well-organized, and richly descriptive, written as if by a woman in her prime. Athill is unsparing in her description of the reasons for her decision to finally go into a group home, and of her own increasing disabilities and those of her friends. And yet the tone is not dark or despairing Athill still finds joy in living. I don't mean that she is one of those in-denial positive thinkers. She is well aware of the limitations of her current state. But she finds genuine pleasure in her writing, in the little bit of gardening that she can do, in loyal old friends and in new friends that she was made in the wonderful group home that (I hasten to add) she is blessed to be able to afford.
She also writes vividly about her early years as a young member of the British aristocracy who rejected Christianity and Conservatism and exercised her sexual freedom in a era when few women did so. I think my favorite essay was the one where she described the miscarriage that she had in her 40s. Always single, and having already had 2 abortions, she kept thinking she'd get around to having a third....until she realized that she wanted this baby. She was blissfully happy during her pregnancy, but it ended in a miscarriage that also nearly ended her life. I won't share her reaction to that; I'll let other readers be as surprised by it as I was, and as impressed by the clear-eyed honesty of this amazing writer.
Like my reviews? Check out my blog at http://www.kathrynbashaar.com/blog/
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
661 reviews50 followers
October 15, 2017
Three and a half stars.

It wasn't an easy read. Diana Athill covers some very brave, but often unpalatable subjects in this one. One describes in great detail a miscarriage she suffered in her 40s of a much wanted child. She nearly died of a massive haemorrhage. Another chapter discusses when it was the right time for her to give up independent living and move to a care home, albeit a very smart and lovely one in North London peopled by equally like minded residents. I didn't enjoy the chapter about death particularly although, as always, written in her forthright no nonsense manner.

However, her often brusque no nonsense manner sweeping away her ex lover into the care of his family when he was very ill, and being relieved when he had left, came across as bordering on harsh.

My overall impression of this book is that, whilst she writes so well about her subjects, I found myself longing to get to the end and move on to something less downbeat. The only chapter I really liked was the one at the beginning about her memories of her childhood home in Norfolk. Her grandparents had beautiful house and estate, which is lovingly described in incredibly fine detail. For that chapter alone I bumped up to 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Jill Blevins.
372 reviews1 follower
June 8, 2019
This is like enjoying your favorite grandma, sharing the adventures of her lifetime, adventures of which nobody will ever have again because the world is a different place and nobody takes risks like they used to, and wishing she was your age so you could hang around her forever.

Diana Athill wrote this when she was 97, and I can't even imagine writing at 97, let alone being so lively still. The Alive Alive in the title is about something else - won't give it away - but she is twice as alive as me now and I'm just a baby in age comparison. Some people just live life so unencumbered by rules, peer and family pressure, inner voices screaming at you to be normal, and finance issues (which she had, but didn't fret or listen to like us regular humans do).

It's so easy to get out of your head and into her writing, to become someone who lives life to the fullest, who enjoys opportunities that most of us never had, or would have said no to because, again, we're regular people and she is extraordinary. Even at 97, she is more alive than everyone in my life. Probably yours, too.
Profile Image for Danielle Palmer.
786 reviews5 followers
May 12, 2016
What did I think of the book? It was ok, this the two star rating. The first chapter started out quite slow, with a detailed remembrance of her familial home, where every building was located and exactly which kind of tree grew by which building... At this point I was really glad this was a slim book and yet dreaded what remained. Luckily the interest factor ticked up in the following chapters. I can't say I agree with the authors choice of using abortion as a birth control, or with her willingness and enjoyment of continued affairs with married men, but it was interesting to hear the other side of the story I suppose. I liked the closing line "why want anything more marvelous than what is?" I think the most marvelous thing about this book, unfortunately, is that it was written by a nonagenarian.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lindsay Seddon.
130 reviews7 followers
July 29, 2016
Alive, Alive, Oh! is a collection of memories that matter most to Athill as she draws nearer to her 100th birthday.

I was drawn to this after reading a review which mentioned Athill's thoughts on moving herself into a retirement/care home. It was a point of view I'd never considered before, that such a move can be a positive one for everybody concerned.

Many chapters surprised me in the same way she seemed to have always been ahead of her time. Some stories really made stop and think about my own attitudes towards certain things.

I did skip over the odd paragraph, particularly the chapter about her grandparents' garden but that's just because I'm not really into a lot of description.

I really feel I could learn a lot from Athill. This volume is too small.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,629 reviews326 followers
Currently reading
May 20, 2023
Marissa Lingen read both of her late-life memoirs:
"These are two memoirs of old age, more or less, and I read them in reverse chronological order, which is interesting for the places where Athill has changed her mind about various aspects of her age. They’re slim volumes, fast reading, like having a conversation with a forthright elderly pal who is sometimes wrong but always interesting."

OK, I'll try this one. Assuming our library has it . . .

I liked the titular essay a LOT -- two old ladies comparing their lists of lovers, and commenting that was better than counting sheep at bedtime! But after that, I bogged down on the next couple or three. I'll look here & see if there are other essays people particularly like.
Profile Image for Kuang Ting.
141 reviews23 followers
January 30, 2021

《Alive, Alive Oh!》的作者Diana Athill是一位英國的傳奇女編輯,本書出版於2016年,當時她已經即將100歲! 這位作者是誰呢? 她是一位英國人,出生於1917年,卒於2019年,她的人生基本上就是西方20世紀的一部縮影。Diana的主要職業是編輯,她在出版界工作了半個世紀,編輯生涯曾經與眾多20世紀最具代表性的作者共事(西蒙波娃、奈波爾、阿特伍德…等等。),畢竟是英國啊,日不落國的文壇,其實就是世界文學的軸心,至今也不例外。享譽全球的文豪,絕大多數都是以英語寫作的作家,而身為一位女編輯,在女權尚未普及的20世紀中葉,她的職業成就也是令人刮目相看。



她曾經與一位埃及裔的作家交往,Diana好心慷慨的與他分享自己在倫敦的公寓,這位作家卻在日記裡不停的批判她,身受憂鬱症糾纏,這位仁兄最後在Diana的公寓裡自盡,這段經歷也構成Diana其中一本回憶錄。另一場戀情的男主角是一位美國的黑人,他也是千里達與多巴格獨立運動的狂熱分子,他自稱自己是Malcolm X的親戚,這位戀人後來被人刺殺身亡,如此戲劇性的題材,自然也成了Diana另一本的回憶錄。



現實中,敢於傾聽內心聲音並付諸實行的人,畢竟還是少數。她甚至還在書中直接承認,她比較喜歡當別人的情婦,這樣能享受純粹的愛情喜悅,而不用操煩柴米油鹽:” What I was really happy with was a lover who had a nice wife to do his washing and look after him if he fell ill, so that I could enjoy the plums of love without having to munch through the pudding.”。性情中人啊~

儘管她筆下的作品悲劇色彩濃重,但實際上她的人生還是過得挺平順的,擁有快樂的英倫童年,在鄉村的宅院裡,享受English childhood,閱讀書籍受文學薰陶,大學進入牛津大學讀英文,畢業那年遇上二戰爆發,進入BBC擔任情報員,戰後踏入出版界,擔任文學編輯長達半個世紀。愛情並非她人生的全部,她在2000年時也出版過一本書《Stet: An Editor’s Life》,編輯生涯的回憶錄,在Goodreads上也有超過一千個評價,代表也挺受歡迎。有人稱呼她為那個年代倫敦出版業最有份量的女編輯之一。有時間蠻想讀讀看這本書,可以從第一手視角,認識20世紀世界文學的中心。回憶錄真的是一種很棒的閱讀題材!

撇除編輯的成就,Diana成為文壇炙手可熱的作家,竟然發生於她90歲左右時。2008年出版的回憶錄《Somewhere Towards The End》榮獲美國書評人協會最佳回憶錄獎,使她一舉成名,成為西方文學節(literary festival)的座上賓。她在本書裡分享了關於衰老的種種體悟,引起眾多讀者的共鳴吧。

我讀的這一本《Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter》是她倒數第二本作品,出版於2016年,Diana百歲生日前夕,本書收錄了十篇散文,主題包含她童年的生活、看待死亡的態度、喜愛的書籍、人生的教訓、成長於20世紀英國的心境。最大的亮點是〈Alive, Alive Oh!〉這篇文章,我很久沒讀到如此有感染力的作品了。Diana一生未婚,但在42歲那年,竟然懷孕了,接著又突然流產了! 流產使她差點喪命,卻也讓她更加珍惜活著的每一刻,所以才有[Alive Alive Oh!]感人肺腑的生命嘆息。

另一篇文章〈The Decision〉也充滿省思,她分享了自己決定搬入安養院前後的心情寫照,頗值得玩味。Diana對於衰老毫不畏懼,有時還非常幽默:”But my main luxury is now something which many misguided old people dread: the wheelchair. They think submitting to it is humiliating, and they are wrong. Nothing could be more deliciously luxurious than being pushed around a really thrilling and crowded exhibition in a wheelchair. The crowd falls away on either side like the Red Sea parting for the Israelites, and there you are, lounging in front of the painting of your choice in perfect comfort. I shall never forget the first time I fully realized how marvelous this can be. It was in front of Matisses’s red Dance, and I have never enjoyed a great painting more intensely.” 如此可愛的老奶奶,誰能不愛^^。

還有一篇我很喜歡的文章為〈A Life of Luxuries〉,Diana是一位熱愛時尚(fashion)的女性,她分享了自己一輩子時尚品味的演變,並且提供一個很有趣的時代背景,即20世紀社會對女性時尚的美感變遷:”I can’t help regretting the passing of the evening dress-what in my mother’s young days was called a ball gown-because almost any woman moves better and looks prettier in a floor-length dress, with her shoulders emerging from beautiful material. I think its demise came about when the word ’sexy’ became acceptable as a description of an attractive garment. It was not that young women in the past were any less eager than those of today to make men desire them, but the words we associated with desirability were ‘beauty’, ‘prettiness’, ‘charm’. I remember the first time I heard ‘sexy’ applied with approval to a piece of clothing-which would have been in the 1950s; it surprised me a bit…” 2021年1月忠孝復興站手扶梯旁最大幅的廣告,正是當下最紅的直播產業,十幾位網美任君挑選,小露香肩已無法滿足當代人的幻想,美豔巨乳才是社會對於美的共識吧…

閱讀一位作家晚年的作品,某種程度上其實也像讀一篇很長的書評,將其一生的著作、經歷、想法做個總結。我覺得Diana Athill有點像西方版的楊絳女士,皆活至期頤之年,走過一世紀的風風雨雨,她們的人生故事,簡直是20世紀的中英比較歷史~


最後,我想提一下Granta雜誌,出版過Diana的幾本著作。這是一本英語世界裡舉足輕重的純文學季刊,超愛其座右銘The Home of New Writing,他們挖掘了諸多諾貝爾文學獎的得主,提供了一個新世代初試啼聲的平台。與此同時,也持續出版老中青三代作家的作品,把回憶錄的內斂與新聞(攝影)的敘事力量相結合,實踐現實主義的理念。

(節錄自Wiki) In 2007, The Observer stated: "In its blend of memoirs and photojournalism, and in its championing of contemporary realist fiction, Granta has its face pressed firmly against the window, determined to witness the world."

Granta每一季都會聚焦於單一主題,邀請知名作家透過文字探究一些人類心靈深處共通的情感,這已經媲美藝術了。The art of literature,透過文學看見世界,多耐人尋味,不是嗎~
258 reviews1 follower
May 20, 2019
Insights into life from post WW2 to approx 2010, UK.
Reflections on ageing, relationships, parenting.
You don't need me to tell you she is a wonderfully skilled writer and a woman of achievement. The pieces on her loss of a pregnancy when she had finally decided she really wanted a child this time was very moving [previous abortions had not caused her heartache.] Also revealing was her description of some of the facets of her relationship with a partner she did not live with. Then there was her decision to move to a retirement facility where there was so little space for belongings. All instructive, moving and enlightening but with humour too.
Athill has written a number of volumes of memoir - this is the most recent I think and the only one I have read but it was terrific and I will read more.
Profile Image for Emma.
1,216 reviews
November 10, 2022
What a wonderful collection of short essays! I had never heard of Diana Athill before reading Alive, Alive Oh! but what a woman she must have been, what a life! I couldn't help admiring her positive outlook over life even during hardships, and I really want to read her other autobiographical works.

My favorite essays in this book were the one about post-war Britain (very different point of view from what you usually read) and the one about Diana Athill's pregnancy (so poignant, and again, I'm in awe of her strength).
I must admit the first one about her grandparents's garden, as bucolic and charming as it was, wasn't really my cup of tea, but if you're like me, don't let that one scare you away, all the others were (in my opinion) much more interesting.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Brookbank.
134 reviews7 followers
April 10, 2018
Oh, how I loved this. Loved it even more than her other memoir that I raved about. There is something about her that I relate to so deeply; her writing speaks straight to my soul. On everything from childhood memories to family to relationships (or lack there of) to motherhood (or lack thereof), she is wise and comforting and inspirational and funny and non-conforming - all the good things. I could go on, but I won't. Just read her.
Profile Image for Martyna Hanna.
138 reviews5 followers
September 4, 2021
Lovely musings on aging, books, being alive and dying, written with wit and grace.
Profile Image for Kyle.
289 reviews34 followers
January 31, 2016
As I get older I find myself thinking more and more about the short time we have and about whether or not I'm using my time wisely. When considering these questions I believe it is immensely useful to learn from those who are farther down the road. Seven years ago I read Athill's first memoir, Somewhere Towards the End , written when she was 91 and focused on how things like her sex drive, her reading habits, etc. had changed as she aged. Now at the age of 98, Athill has given us this book of essays continuing the theme. It's very interesting to see what memories, at the age of 98, one ends up reflecting on. Athill states that recently she has shifted from remembering her relationships with men to focusing on the experiences she found beautiful: her grandmother's garden, Tobago, good meals, etc. I imagine this might be different if she had children (there's a very poignant chapter focused on her decision to finally have a child in her 40s when she became unexpectedly pregnant and then almost died when she miscarried). However, what I'm taking away from this book is that you should focus on generating experiences rather than accumulating things. Athill described the process of shedding her belongings as she downsized to an assisted living facility. Her books are no longer with her, but her memories still are. This is probably Athill's last book, and I'm glad to have read it. I hope when I am as far along the path of life as she, I do it with as much grace and acceptance as well as have a similar treasure trove of memories, for as Edith Wharton put it, "... no treasure-house of Atreus was ever as rich as a well-stored memory.”
Profile Image for Kathleen.
472 reviews3 followers
February 6, 2017
It's not often you have the opportunity to read a book written by a 97 year-old. I am old enough, even at just 67, to understand the author's comment that although there are increasing limitations on a physical level as one gets older, there are new pleasures that balance them. One is memories -- there are so many memories, and the time and perspective to string them together into one's own story. I wish I knew Diana Athill, I think she must be a fascinating person to talk to. There is no 'plot' to this book -- it is a series of ruminations on various ages and stages of her own life, and stories from that long life. Her 97 years encompasses all of the big events of the 20th Century, and now into the 21st: from World War I through the rise of populism in the 2010's. A cozy, thought-provoking, touching book.
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