Written in her 89th year, Diana Athill writes in Somewhere Towards the End not so much about getting old, but reflects on her life and, especially as the book goes on, about being old, and the matter-of-fact changes age imposes on one.
It gives me great hope to read something written by a 90 year old that demonstrates a sharp wit and reflective mind, not to mention a breezy and engrossing writing style. A few extended quotes may serve to whet your appetite for more:
On religious belief:
“Faith – the decision to act as though you believe something
you have no reason to believe, hoping that the decision will bring on belief
and then you will feel better -
that seems to me mumbo-jumbo.
I can’t feel anything but sure that when men form ideas about God, creation, eternity, they are making
no more sense in relation to what lies beyond the range of their comprehension
than the cheeping of sparrows…
…And surely the urgent
practical necessity of trying to order [life] so that its cruelties are minimized
and its beauties are allowed their fullest possible play is compelling enough
without being seen as duly laid on us by a god?"
“And still, each time I’m there [in the garden], I manage to
do at least a little bit of work myself; tie something back, trim something
off, clear some corner weeds, plant three or four small plants, and however my
bones may ache when I’ve done it, I’m always deeply refreshed by it. Getting one’s hands into the earth,
spreading roots, making a plant comfortable – it is a totally absorbing
occupation, like painting or writing, so that you become what you are doing and
are given a wonderful release from consciousness of self.”
“Fidelity in the sense of keeping one’s word I respect, but
I think it tiresome that it is tied so tightly in people’s minds to the idea of
sex. The belief that a wife owes
absolute fidelity to her husband has deep and tangled roots, being based not
only on a man’s need to know himself to be the father of his wife’s child, but
also on the deeper, darker feeling that a mans owns woman… And woman’s anxious clamour for her husband’s fidelity
springs from the same primitive root: she feels it to be necessary proof of her
If you're intrigued by any of this, there is more - much more - in this delightful book. What a full and interesting life this woman has had!