Approaching her 98th birthday, the astonishingly vital and fiercely intelligent Athill adds a charming addendum to her previous memoir on aging, Somewhere Towards the End (2009).
Following an introduction in which she muses about the pleasures of thinking about past events, people, and places, the author offers 11 essays filled with candid memories and reflections. The first is a fond recollection from the 1920s and 1930s of the garden at Ditchingham Hall (the kitchen garden was “a wonderfully thought-out and maintained fabrication of beauty”), her grandparents’ country home in Norfolk, and the second is a look back at the 1940s and 1950s and the pleasures of life in postwar England. What follows are a variety of vivid accounts, the most deeply personal of which tells of her pregnancy in her early 40s, her decision to bear the child, and then the miscarriage that nearly killed her. For readers of a certain age, her decision to give up her independence, move into a home for the elderly, and discover unexpected pleasures there will especially resonate. Whether she is writing about clothes, books, possessions, or relationships, Athill seems always to be completely honest and without unnecessary sentiment. Death does not alarm her—she approves of the sensible, practical way that it is dealt with in her retirement home—and as an atheist, she finds no comfort in the idea of an afterlife. However, as she admitted in her previous memoir on aging, the actual process of dying causes some anxiety. In her final essay here, she allows that one cannot expect an easy dying, but one can still hope for it.
Readers can hope that more crisp and thoughtful essays on life, old age, and death will be forthcoming from a centenarian Athill.