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Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend (2011)

by Diana Athill

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This is a collection of letters written by Diana Athill to her friend, the poet [[Edward Field]], between 1981 and 2007. It is entirely delightful.

Athill, of course, has had a very interesting life and this is often reflected in the letters - chatting, for example, with 'Peggy' Atwood at a book signing. But there's something about the way she writes that makes the most mundane letters engaging - even the ones complaining about unreliable builders or dental work. It's very easy to see how she could develop an initially epistolary conversation into such a long and close friendship. Her first letter is a reply to Field's request for her help, as a publisher, in reviving the reputation of a friend of both of theirs. Though addressed formally to "Dear Mr Field", it's almost immediately very direct, open and emotional, as she remembers the difficulties she had with that friend as he went mad, and how bad she felt about being unable to help him. You almost immediately feel that you know her.

I am totally unable to make any critical judgements about this book, since I spent much of the reading time thinking how wonderful it would be to be, or to have, a friend like her. In fact, I may be a little in love.

Have just tidied, and put everything that absolutely must be done onto this table, on a corner of which I'm writing. Typewriter and my book have vanished under the pile - and here am I, writing to you instead of starting my attack on the mountain. For 78 years, four months and three weeks I've been meaning to overcome this fatal habit of postponing the boring by quickly doing something nice instead - oh dear! Much love, Diana ( )
5 vote wandering_star | Jun 6, 2012 |
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Diana Athill's letters to the American poet Edward Field reveal a sharply intelligent woman with a brilliant sense of humour, a keen eye for the absurd, a fierce loyalty and a passionate zest for life. The letters cover 30 years of Diana's life.

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