Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill

Growing old brings people together like nothing else. Diana (after reading her book I feel as if I know her, so yes, I will say Diana) comes from a social class so far removed from my own. My sister could have been one of the servants in her mother’s home and it is very unlikely that I would ever have encountered the people she has mixed with throughout her life socially. Because she is now 89 all that seems not to matter. She and I and all the other people over 70 are united in this unique experience of ‘somewhere near the end’.

Diana says she never really acknowledged old age until she was 71 and always thought of herself before that as being in her late middle age. Diana did not retire until she was 75.

This is not a book about how to grow gracefully, as the saying goes. It is more about what it is like to be in the state of growing old. She talks of regrets of which like Frank Sinatra she has a few; she mentions her sexual encounters and what they meant to her and how easily she slipped out of love and she writes of her delight in young people albeit once they are reasonably grown. She never had any children and never had that maternal longing until one time in her 40s she became pregnant and decided this time not to terminate and for eight weeks experienced the joy of impending motherhood.

Her take on religion resonates with me:

So we, the irreligious, live within social structures built by the religious, and however critical and or resentful we may be of parts of them, no honest atheist would deny that in so far as the saner aspects of religion hold within a society, that society is the better for it. We take a good nibble of our brother’s cake before throwing it away.
Right behaviour, to me, is the behaviour taught me by my Christian family: one should do unto one’s neighbour as one would like him to do unto one, should turn the other cheek, should not pass on the other side of those in trouble, should be gentle to children, should avoid obsession with material possessions.

I would like everyone to read this book, young or old. If you are young it will give an insight into what the vagaries of growing older entail and if you are already on the way it is a delight to know that your feelings are replicated in this wise and talented woman.

Her own feelings about death and that of friends is widely and sensibly discussed. Why are people so afraid to discuss their inevitable deaths? Diana certainly isn’t.

I am so glad that a visit to the library looking for Margaret Atwood led me to read this wonderful book by Diana Athill. I will definitely go on to read her other memoirs: Stet, Instead of a Letter, After a Funeral, Yesterday morning and Make Believe.

If you follow this link you will find the kind of book review that really annoys me because it says too much. However if you are not going to get around to actually reading the book this is a much better insight than I have given.
Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill review | Non-fiction book reviews – Times Online.


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