Tolstoy was wrong. All happy families are not alike; certainly all happy people are not alike. There are so few of them it’s hard to compare. But one thing is clear: Diana Athill is a happy person, and there’s no one remotely like her.
She turns ninety this year – indeed, this month. She was the best literary editor in London for nearly fifty years, during which she wrote four startling books of her own. In her eighties, she has written three more: Stet, about her publishing life, Yesterday Morning, about her lucky childhood, and now Somewhere Towards the End, about old age. It is an amazing late flowering, almost as remarkable as Philip Roth’s, though she would reject the comparison.
Since this is Diana Athill, we jump straight into the three great taboos: sex, religion and death. The fourth, money, hardly makes an appearance, not because of some lingering English embarrassment – Athill is the least embarrassable person who ever lived – but because, due to an unshakeable lack of