This is the autobiography of Diana Athill from her childhood until her early forties.
In the 1920s Athill had a privileged upbringing in the English countryside in her maternal grandmother's big Georgian house, surrounded by servants, acres of beautiful land complete with lake and animals, surrounded by beauty and delicious healthy food. She tells us about the happy childhood she spent there and the love of her family. We read about long golden summers spent boating along the river and cozy afternoons spent reading books from her Grandfather's extensive library. We then move through her Oxford years and with it the first and biggest love of her life.
WW2 strikes and we see it through Athill's eyes. We follow her story until the then present day, 1958, when she is in her early 40s being a publisher and enjoying happiness.
I enjoyed this book for various reasons. I love reading about the 1930s and 1940s, decades where so much happened. And I love England so it was good to see how growing up there, within a rich family I must add, was indeed privileged and beautiful. Of course there were problems but nothing compared with what was happening at the same time in other parts of the world, or even within poorer family in England itself at the time.
I thought a lot about my own Grandmother who was born at about the same time in the South of Italy and who didn't go to school because helping the family by working and looking after her younger siblings was the right thing to do. Reading about Athill's stay at Oxford, her charming afternoons having tea and cake, going to exhibitions in London, riding on boats along the river and even her promiscuity made me feel like Italy was on a completely different planet at the time. And it made me feel very sad for my own Grandmother. Still, I was glad that Athill and women like her could enjoy such freedom back then.
I found a lot myself in the book. I too, can be very mentally lazy and Athill's descriptions of inertia were at times, describing my own life. I fully understand what it means: wanting to change things, understanding that something must be done about a situation but just not being able to.
I share the same love for literature as Athill, the same love for details and small things in life, the same love for sight (physical and mental), the same realization that God is, and the same mental lucidity when it comes to my own faults.
The author's life was unfortunately marred by a sad event. But it was nice to see how she learnt to cope and eventually put it behind her.
I would love to get my hands on her later autobiography and see what happened in her life later on. She is a fascinating, sensitive soul, with a lot of poetry in her.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was a bit like meeting someone and suddenly and unexpectedly clicking with them. I devoured the book as I wanted to get to know Diana better and better to see if we had more things in common just like you would with a real friend.
I recommend it, but only if you're a girl!