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Somewhere Towards the End

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  2,019 ratings  ·  398 reviews
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, Diana 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 ...more
Hardcover, 182 pages
Published January 5th 2009 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2008)
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Mary Yes! Donald Hall wrote two wonderful books of essays about aging and facing death: "Essays After 80" and "A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety."…moreYes! Donald Hall wrote two wonderful books of essays about aging and facing death: "Essays After 80" and "A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety." Another Donald, Don Murray, wrote a newspaper column about aging and some of that is reflected in his memoir "My Twice-Lived Life." (less)

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Violet wells
May 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed a television documentary I saw about Athill recently. There was a mischievous twinkle in her eye when she gave answers. I'd never heard of her and the documentary seemed to suggest this was a major shortcoming in my reading life. She was Jean Rhys' editor and then, late in life, took up writing herself. I can see why she made a good editor but I'd describe her prose as hygienic - too much detergent applied and too much scrubbing. It was a struggle for me to reach the end because I ...more
Petra-X
Apr 18, 2009 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Caroline
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: auto-and-biog
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
...more
Rebecca
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
...more
Gisela Hafezparast
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have sort of been aware of this book for a while when it was published it was quite widely marketed and as she is a fascinating women lucky and privileged enough to work in the publishing in what must have been its glory days, I put it on my reading list. It came to the forefront as watching family and friends approaching the end of life, I wanted to know what that must feel like and I thought this book might help.
In this book Diana Athill very honestly describes what it means to be in your
...more
Letha
Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Tom Mayer
Nov 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: edited
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 ...more
Fran
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stack, memoir
While at first glance it may be easily dismissed because a reader may wonder what it could possibly have to offer, I was enthralled. It was beautifully written and profound in its simplicity. A book to read and re-read every several years. I sat in silence for a few moments after finishing it to continue to ponder the words of this 80+ year old author. It's a 4 1/2 stars to me!
Ali
Nov 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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 -
...more
Jim
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
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
Judith
Feb 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Ed
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
...more
Lobstergirl
Nov 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
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 ...more
Ron
Nov 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: health, memoirs, death
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
Bookmarks Magazine
Feb 05, 2009 rated it really liked it

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

...more
Katie
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
A memoir about aging by a British woman in her eighties who worked in publishing and book reviews, Diana Athill.

One might think that reading about aging and the approach of death is pure drudgery and to be avoided, but this is one of those writers who, as they say, could write about paint drying and it would be interesting. Her words are casually philosophical, and she touches on a huge array of topics: her lack of marriage and children and how it made her different from everyone around her, the
...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
...more
Dierregi
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
This book was on my mother’s night table and I found the title intriguing. My mother is now 84, close to Athill’s age when she wrote the book. I am obviously younger, but already concerned by thoughts of mortality (my own and my parents).

Having recently read a book about aging (Out of time) which I did not like, I was wary, but decided to plunge in regardless. I am really glad I did.

Aging is definitely the last taboo of our time, together with death. However, TV shows and video games somehow
...more
Alan Shaw
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Joe McNally
Jul 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Barbara
Jun 28, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this little book of musings about aging. Not life-changing, but quite interesting. My favorite quote:

"it is a reminder" (being around young people) "that we are not just dots at the end of thin black lines projecting into nothingness, but are parts of the broad, many-coloured river teeming with beginnings, ripenings, decayings, new beginnings--are still parts of it, and our dying will be part of it just as these children's being young is, so while we still have the equipment to
...more
Athena
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: upper class Brits?
Shelves: fails, biography
I really tried but just couldn't get into this book. There was something so blithe about Athill's writing voice, she made me feel like she's just that little bit better than her readers. She & her partner of many years both have other sex partners, she's white & he's black, she's seemingly embraced a superior lifestyle, or something. I can't quite figure it, but I'm not groovy enough to be in her readership.

Actually, she may be a delightful person I'd enjoy talking with but I couldn't
...more
Claire Peal
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Kirsten
Jan 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, female
Had no idea when I received this book as a gift who this person was but got to like her quite a bit very quickly. Eighty-nine years old. Loved her frankness and honesty about herself, even when not particularly flattering, and aging, even when not particularly appealing. This memoir touched on many different topics, lightly and yet deeply at the same time. I think I'd like to hear her opinion on just about anything.
Sophfronia Scott
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend gave me this jewel of a book for my birthday. I liked Athill's wit and clear-eyed view of life in her eighties. Most of all I appreciated her message that despite the vagaries of aging, it's possible to be in the present moment and squeeze out every bit of joy life still has to offer.
Diane
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very delightful book about finding your own " happy place" in your later years. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Damyanti Biswas
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nlb
Absolutely delightful, honest and riveting read on ageing and old age. I read this for research, but ended up liking it for itself.
David
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The reviews were good. The book won the Costa Book Award for best biography. So I was looking forward to what is actually a short memoir of what it is like to be eighty plonk. However, I found it to be dull, repetitive and mainly boring. I don't want to know about her drawing, what she watches on TV (only Wimbledon and Tiger Woods) and illnesses (Barry's prostate). She talks about not reading novels (they might have helped with her prose). Although, like her, I'm not a big fan of "thrills, ...more
Beth
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Diana Athill, the editor for significant English authors for five decades, was appointed an Officer of the British Empire in 2008 by Queen Elizabeth. Even knowing that, I would have put the book down early on because her world was embodied by people I didn't know and didn't particular care for, but it was a book club choice and I kept reading. At 89, Ms. Athill is pithy, prophetic and philosophical in this memoir about growing old. She is, brutally honest about herself and the choices she made ...more
Lisa
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoy reading books by older women and heard about Athill when she died earlier this year at 101. I quite enjoyed her writing on aging and how it had changed her life and activities, but I was less interesting in some of her other recollections, although she clearly led a fascinating life.
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Novels/books about old age 1 5 Oct 07, 2014 06:01AM  

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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
...more
“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.” 20 likes
“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.” 10 likes
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