Martin Amis once wrote that John Updike’s final achievement, had he lived a little longer, might have been “to make boredom interesting”; that is, he might have written eloquently about the day-to-day experiences of old age.
Diana Athill – Updike’s editor at the publisher André Deutsch – has become famous late in life for doing just that. The 93-year-old’s latest book, a selection from her letters to the American poet Edward Field, can be read alongside her brilliant recent memoir Somewhere Towards the End: in both she documents her dotage with affecting candour.
Though the book contains some lively discussion of literature and politics (“if those fuckers plunge us into war ... ”), it is memorable mostly for the author’s wry musings on hearing aids and cataract operations. But Athill is never remotely maudlin or self-pitying, and she describes beautifully those “lovely moments of pure being” that make it all worthwhile.
Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend, by Diana Athill, Granta, RRP£20, 304 pages