The renowned British publisher follows her refreshingly honest series of late-in-life memoirs with a collection of three decades of letters to a fellow writer in New York.
Athill (Somewhere Towards the End, 2009, etc.) spent most of her career as a highly respected editorial director for London publisher André Deutsch, propelling the careers of notable writers such as Margaret Atwood, Jean Rhys and Philip Roth. Celebrated for her editing prowess, Athill began publishing short stories and autobiographical works in her mid 40s. After retiring from publishing at age 75, her career as a memoirist hit a steep trajectory. Here Athill illuminates broad swaths of her past, with more than 100 characteristically candid dispatches to poet Edward Field, from 1981 to 2007. With the brisk immediacy and contextual depth that often distinguishes correspondence from memoir, Athill’s letters reveal vivid shades of her colorful personality that heretofore have been most evident in interviews. Matter-of-fact observations detail the minutiae of her daily life: trying to find ribbons for her old typewriter; the eventual, daunting switch to computers; the modest fee for an article she wrote; flowers budding in the garden; bodily functions during illnesses. The author deftly intertwines tales of travels, dinner parties and quirky characters with blunt observations and passages about the life of a writer. Without the balance of Fields’ epistles bridging her letters, however, their extensive dialogue reads like a one-sided conversation. Occasional footnotes and poems are not enough to provide sufficient background, often leaving readers in the dark about the people, places, emotions and events she references.
Endearingly forthright, buoyant and detailed, Athill's letters tell but one side of a cherished bond, leaving the reader eager to see her friend's replies.