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