Diana Athill's latest memoir looks at 'things that matter' after living to 98

"Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter" (W.W. Norton & Co.), by Diana Athill

Diana Athill, 98, still has a few things to teach us about growing old with dignity and humour and grace.

See Full Article

Her latest memoir, "Alive, Alive Oh!" follows the unlikely literary celebrity she achieved at age 90 with the publication of the prize-winning bestseller "Somewhere Towards the End."

In this collection of astute and sparkling essays, Athill tries to identify "the things that matter" after living to almost 100.

It's not her love affairs, though she had plenty. "About halfway through my 70s I stopped thinking of myself as a sexual being," she writes. "It was like coming out onto a high plateau, into clear, fresh air, far above the antlike bustle."

What remains are "memories, thoughts and reflections": of her grandparents' garden, where an apple tree provides "the nearest I ever came to a mystical experience." Of women's changing fashions -- even for a girl born in 1917, "pinkness and sparkle" were everything. And of her reluctant decision to move into a retirement home, an essay that includes a hilarious account of a day spent planting rosebushes with a few other nonagenarian residents, one of them blind.

"One good thing about being physically incapable of doing almost anything is that if you manage to do even a little something, you feel great," she observes.

One of the most powerful essays recounts a pregnancy in her 40s, a brush with death that left her profoundly grateful to be alive. Another chapter, titled "Lessons," offers up a few: "Avoid romanticism and abhor possessiveness," she says. In her case, that meant no children, and affairs with married men.

But she has few, if any, evident regrets.

Rather, the life she describes is one of abundance -- although not material -- where every sorrow is offset by sweetness of all kinds -- friends, food, fashion, art, literature, travel and rambles in nature.

The book's title recalls the lyrics of a popular song about a Dublin street vendor, Molly Malone, who wheels her wheelbarrow "through streets broad and narrow, crying cockles and mussels alive, alive oh!"

It's an odd image for Athill, who was born into privilege, educated at Oxford and had a distinguished career at the BBC and in British publishing.

And yet it isn't. Both the fictional Molly and the real Diana are out there in the thick of things, mixing it up, acutely aware that all living things, whether mussels or humans, are destined to die.



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • 'Arrival' director feeling high hopes but no pressure ahead of Oscar night

    Entertainment CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Denis Villeneuve is certainly crossing his fingers for "Arrival" to become an Oscar winner on Sunday, but the Quebec filmmaker says he won't be disappointed even if he walks away empty-handed. "I would love to win, and I hope we win one or two, that would be fantastic," Villeneuve told The Canadian Press on Saturday. Source
  • Celebrities launch pot brands as California legalizes drug

    Entertainment CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- Country singer Willie Nelson, the children of the late reggae icon Bob Marley and comedian Whoopi Goldberg are just a few of the growing number of celebrities publicly jumping into the marijuana industry and eyeing the California pot market, which is expected to explode after voters legalized the recreational use of weed. Source
  • Weed by Whoopi? Celebs launch pot brands as California legalizes drug

    Entertainment CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- Country singer Willie Nelson, the children of the late reggae icon Bob Marley and comedian Whoopi Goldberg are just a few of the growing number of celebrities publicly jumping into the marijuana industry and eyeing the California pot market, which is expected to explode after voters legalized the recreational use of weed. Source
  • Batman v Superman, Hillary's America top Razzies as year's worst films

    Entertainment CBC News
    Even the Razzie Awards are getting political. A documentary criticizing U.S. Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton tied on Saturday with superhero ensemble Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on a list of the year's worst achievements in film, winning four Razzies apiece. Source
  • Five facts about Sunday's 89th Annual Academy Awards

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- Five facts about Sunday's 89th Annual Academy Awards: IT'S AN HONOUR TO BE NOMINATED: But after 21 nominations, it would be nice for sound mixer Kevin O'Connell to finally win. The most nominated artist without a win, O'Connell has another chance this year for his work in "Hacksaw Ridge. Source
  • Willie Nelson, Whoopi Goldberg, other celebs launch pot brands

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    SAN FRANCISCO — Country singer Willie Nelson, the children of the late reggae icon Bob Marley and comedian Whoopi Goldberg are just a few of the growing number of celebrities publicly jumping into the marijuana industry and eyeing the California pot market, which is expected to explode after voters legalized the recreational use of weed. Source
  • Hacked John Legend Twitter account attacks Trump, hits on Hillary

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    John Legend has poked fun at the hacker who took over his Twitter account. The 38-year-old singer uploaded his own messages on Friday after realizing what had happened. “Someone just hacked my account. I’m back. My hacker was vulgar and kinda (sic) hilarious. Source
  • 'An assault on human dignity:' Stars decry Trump immigration policy as Syrian cinematographer barred from U.S.

    Entertainment CBC News
    U.S. immigration authorities are barring entry to a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on a harrowing film about his nation's civil war, The White Helmets, that has been nominated for an Academy Award. According to internal Trump administration correspondence seen by The Associated Press, the Department of Homeland Security has decided at the last minute to block Khaled Khateeb from travelling to Los Angeles for the Oscars. Source
  • 'Moonlight', 'American Honey' to vie at Spirit Awards

    Entertainment CTV News
    SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The last three best-feature winners at the Film Independent Spirit Awards have gone on to win best-picture the next day at the Academy Awards, but that streak appears likely to snap this year. Source
  • Netflix and chill, rather than go out to silver screen

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    “Hello, plants,” my wiseacre college-age son says, by way of hello to my wife and me when he sees us in front of the television, binge-watching something or other. I call that big talk from someone who’s invariably headed up to his room to play video games online with friends for hours. Source