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Letters to a Friendby Diana Athill
Synopses & Reviews
Diana Athill is one of our great women of letters. The renowned editor of V. S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys, and many others, she is also a celebrated memoirist whose Somewhere Towards the End was a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. For thirty years, Athill corresponded with the American poet Edward Field, freely sharing jokes, pleasures, and pains with her old friend. Letters to a Friend is an epistolary memoir that describes a warm, decades-long friendship. Written with intimacy and spontaneity, candor and grace, it is perhaps more revealing than any of her celebrated books.
Edited, selected, and introduced by Athill, and annotated with her own delightful notes, this collection — rich with Athill's characteristic wit, humor, elegance, and honesty — reveals a sharply intelligent woman with a keen eye for the absurd, a brilliant turn of phrase, and a wicked sense of humor. Covering her career as an editor, the adventure of her retirement, her immersion in her own writing, and her reactions to becoming unexpectedly famous in her old age — including gossip about legendary authors and mutual friends, sharp pen-portraits, and uninhibited accounts of her relationships — Letters to a Friend describes a flourishing friendship and offers a portrait of a woman growing older without ever losing her zest for life.
"Only one side of the 30-year correspondence between longtime British author Athill, an editorial director at Andre Deutsch, and the American poet Edward Field is conveyed here, while the absence of Field's replies are not adequately explained. The two began swapping letters between London and New York City in 1980, inspired by their mutual friendship with the difficult, somewhat mad Andre Deutsch author Alfred Chester (The Exquisite Corpse), who had died in 1971; Field was inquiring how to bring Chester out of 'literary annihilation.' Over the course of the decades, Athill reveals a growing familiarly, fondness, and admiration for Field ('Darling Edward') and for his longtime blind partner, Neil Derrick, who together visited her occasionally in London. Athill's letters reveal literary gossip about her authors; enthusiasm for writing projects; home improvement works; travels with her cousin, Barbara; and a deeply ambivalent, changing relationship with Jamaican playwright Barry Reckord. Much of the correspondence devolves into details of the 'creeping and wheezing' of getting old (Athill is now in her 90s, and Field is six years younger). Throughout this warm, enduring literary bond, Athill exposes a charming wit, vanity, and graciousness." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Diana Athill is perhaps best known for her memoir Somewhere Towards the End, but Letters to a Friend could eclipse it....Each letter is an unalloyed delight; articulate to the point of eloquence, and candid, even about the naughty bits and her frustration with her long-time lover, Barry Reckord (a Jamaican playwright now deceased). They were together for years, in a relationship so open that, at one point, Athill invited one of his girlfriends to live with them....[E]very letter in Letters to a Friend is a small masterpiece; chatty, companionable and very, very intelligent." Valerie Ryan
"[T]his latest of her books,...demonstrates, through the tart comments she has interposed, that, well into her 90s, she has lost none of her fire....Her undeniably patrician manner and lapidary prose style notwithstanding, it is very clear from the warmth of Athill's communications with her friend that for her, kind hearts are indeed far more than coronets, her genuine concern and sympathy with his travails shining through....One feels that Athill isn't capable of writing a rote 'bread and butter letter.' One of the joys of this book is how heartfelt her sentences always are, so full of freshness and purpose, whether describing an experience or indulging in a spot of delicious gossip....Words across an ocean from a true friend for all seasons." Shelf Awareness
This epistolary memoir — rich with Diana Athill's characteristic wit, humor, elegance and honesty — describes a warm, decades-long friendship.
This epistolary memoir--rich with Diana Athill's characteristic wit, humor, elegance and honesty--describes a warm, decades-long friendship.
About the Author
Born in 1917 and educated at Oxford University, Diana Athill has written several memoirs, including Instead of a Letter, After a Funeral, Somewhere Towards the End, and the New York Times Notable Book Stet, about her fifty-year career in publishing. She lives in London and was recently appointed an Officer of the British Empire.
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