Diana Athill, and The Astrology Book Club

Diana Athill (1917-2019 – she died on 23 January) was an editor extraordinary, a novelist and a memoirist. She was also one very wise woman. In her book, Somewhere Towards the End, she wrote:

What dies is not a life’s value, but the worn-out (or damaged) container of the self, together with the self-awareness of itself: away that goes into nothingness, with everyone else’s … . The difference between being and non-being is both so abrupt and so vast that it remains shocking even though it happens to every living thing that is, was, or ever will be.


No doubt one likes the idea of ‘last words’ because they soften the shock. Given the physical nature of the act of dying, one has to suppose that most of the pithy ones are apocryphal, but still one likes to imagine oneself signing off in a memorable way, and a reason why I have sometimes been sorry that I don’t believe in God is that I shan’t, in fairness, be able to quote ‘Dieu me pardonnerai, c’est son metier’ [God will forgive me, it’s his job], words which have always made me laugh, and which, besides, are wonderfully sensible. As it is, what I would like to say is: ‘It’s all right. Don’t mind not knowing.’ And foolish though it may be, I have to confess that I still hope the occasion on which I have to say it does not come very soon.

I found the extracts from Somewhere Towards the End (which was published in 2008) here.

I hope, when my time comes, I possess Athill’s sanguinity, her humour and her not minding not knowing. Although Arthur Miller’s: ‘The thing that’s so difficult [or words to that effect] is the loss of consciousness’ still haunts me so much … but who knows how either Miller or Athill actually were at the end?

And the thing I’d like to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is The Astrology Book Club: it’s – as it suggests on the tin – a club that recommends books each month by astrological sign. Mine this month is Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower because, apparently, it’s multi-layered, razor-sharp epic fantasy, which is extremely well-written and working with the highest stakes imaginable. Which should appeal to me (and one-twelfth of the world .. .) See if you think yours fits your astrological self … . I somehow doubt Diana Athill would have approved, but you never know.

About Angela

I write fiction about the difficulty we have when we try to say what's in our hearts.
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