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on 7 November 2009
Diana Athill should be a guru. No-one can make you feel life is so enjoyable as she does. How wonderful that at 92, this vibrant, intelligent woman is still fully aware, with all her marbles and her penetrating wit.
She has no sentimentality but she writes with compassion and great humour. This book will remain by my bedside for a long time, to dip into again and again.
For anyone over 65, this is a guide on how to grow old gracefully, or even how to ignore your age. It is absolutely essential reading and also entertaining, thought-provoking, interesting and intelligent. What more can you ask for a writer, a person, a book. Diana Athill is a National Treasure. She says her aim was to capture the truth in her writing. Well, whether this is THE truth or not, it is certainly HER truth, and her honesty shines through so loud and clear. A great pleasure to know this woman inhabits the same planet as me. This book is life-enhancing.
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on 5 January 2010
This is truly a fine book. It is large but not that heavy considering, and the worst I can say about it is that Ms Athill tends to repeat herself on various occasions. A good editor could have done little about this because it is in effect simply a compendium of four books of autobiography - none allows for the others to be read alongside it, rather than with a gap of many years.

But that tiny carp aside, I've rarely read anything more effective in this line. I think the crux of its success is its honesty, for she is honest about herself as well as others, gentle in her assessments when necessary but real, above all, just about all the time. She tells it straight, with a candour that is admirable. She's brilliant about the joys and hassles of getting old, and equally engaging about being young - while she's spot on about the life of a book editor (I speak from experience, though none so distinguished as hers). I finished the book wishing I'd the privilege of knowing her - and yet somehow feeling I already did.

It's a truly brilliant price too - a bargain. Don't hesitate - a wise book by a wise woman. We need more of them!
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on 11 February 2011
Life Class consists of four memoirs by Diana Athill, from her childhood to the present day (she was 93 when it was published), with an Introduction by Ian Jack. I had already read the last two memoirs in this new book, Stet and Somewhere Towards the End, covering her years as an editor with Deutsch, and her years as an "oldie", and enjoyed both, so I was eager to read about her earlier years. The first memoir in Life Class (Yesterday Morning) is a wonderful evocation of a childhood spent on an estate in Norfolk, with loving grandparents, parents and loads of aunts and cousins. She goes into beautiful detail so you can picture the house, gardens and the rest of the estate and almost smell the flowers and herbs. The second memoir (Instead of a Letter) deals with the years in which she was jilted, which left her with a depression that lasted a couple of decades, and how she recovered from this shock. Miss Athill tells it as it was, with a frankness that might shock some people but didn't shock me. I prefer the honest truth to hypocrisy. I'm an avid reader and was an editor myself so I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters on life at Deutsch and her memories of some of her authors, especially Jean Rhys and Vidia Naipaul. Now that I am in my early 60s, I am able to appreciate her comments on old age, its drawbacks and our frustrations, and learn from her as well. Miss Athill won't please everyone, because, as she admits herself, she has had a very privileged life and an upbringing that made her extremely self-confident. She also admits to having a cold streak, but the fact that she recognizes this and other character failings makes you fairly willing to forgive her. If you like books, good writing, and are old enough to be nostalgic about life in the old days, you will love this collection.
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on 9 April 2012
I started reading Diana Athill the "wrong" way round - So I started with Somewhere Towards the End. A book written by and old woman about being old and about the reality of death being close.(Hence the title)Few friends shared my enthusiasm when I told them what I was reading and that it was beautiful - I was aware at the time I was not explaining exactly what I meant.
So I started reading the selected memoirs of Diana Athill (Life Class) having already read the "end". However, I started it at the beginning - it comprises 4 books - with Early One Morning.
I think I bought it to be able to read Instead of A Letter - the second of the four books included in Life Class.
The book charts the life of Athill - sometimes in minute detail - her writing is sublime.
She covers her privileged childhood and family, the coping and decades of unhappiness after being jilted in a letter by her fiancee, her career as an editor and founding partner with Publisher Andre Deutsch and her increasing age and impending and inevitable death.
Inspiring, uplifting, sad, painful, joyous and profound.
I couldn't put it down and now want to gather everything she ever wrote!
I savoredLife Class: The Selected Memoirs of Diana AthillSomewhere Towards the End every page
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on 3 May 2011
As I get older, I appreciate Diana Athill's writing more and more. Her life is fascinating (to an outsider), and she writes about it in a wonderfully clear, concise prose style, totally without self-pity and accepting of her likes and dislikes without passing judgement on any of her actions. This is very unusual, and also wonderfully liberating - she was a feminist before the word was invented, and has lived a much fuller life because of this. The book is a collection of some of her previous autobiographical writings, and to read them all one after the other has been a joy.
The only quibble that I would make with this book is nothing to do with its content, but the fact that my copy was badly bound, so that pages started to fall out even before I had reached them... The publisher needs to address this issue, as this is a book that I will want to re-read, and having to search for loose pages does not improve the reading experience!

Update: I solved the above problem by buying the hardback version - SO much better, the binding is firm and there is a ribbon bookmark - which in a book this thick, is very useful..!
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on 6 January 2015
Most memoirs / biographies are written by people who have either been in the public eye or have lived a particularly noteworthy life. This series of memoirs, collected together into Life Class, is exceptional in that they have been written by a woman not famous, infamous or lived a life of particular note. However, her memoirs represent a reading gem.

Not only is the writing well crafted but also she reaches out to her readers with her refreshing frankness as to what her life has comprised. Born in 1917 and with some of her memoirs published not until this century you learn about life in Britain throughout much of the twentieth century.

What makes her memoirs distinctive is that Athill writes about how she has felt about her life. She expresses what many of us feel, or have felt at some stage in our lives, but often don’t talk about, perhaps most notably about the experience of ageing and of being old in Somewhere Towards The End. At no point does she descend into self-pity of self-indulgence. On the contrary she is often laugh out loud witty.

Of particular interest too is her telling within Stet of the behind the scenes of book publishing, her career having being that of an editor. She explains the role of the editor and talks about the experiences she had in working with six authors in particular. This was very revealing as to the often quirky and in some cases tortured psyche of writers.

I highly recommend this book. Don’t be put off by the length of this book, your eyes will fly through its pages.
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on 19 June 2015
Hardcover (edit)
review I totally loved this book. It is composed by 4 separate "memoirs" but there is very little repetition. I do have the utmost admiration for Ms. Athill and for her accomplishments. Her writing is excellent and it is a pleasure to read the story of a life so interesting and unusual.

Actually I started from the "end" because I read first "Somewhere towards the end" as a separate book and I was so fascinated by it that decided to read more from the author. I wrote a lengthier review just about that.

This "anthology" fills in the gaps, starting from Athill's idyllic childhood and moving to her doomed love story. What I found most interesting was "Stet", about her working experience. We definitely agree about the fact that earning your living by working in an office eight (or more) hours per day is an unnatural act, regardless of what the contemporary "ethic" of work wants us to believe.

However, Athill was luckier than me because she actually liked her job ;-)
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on 20 February 2010
I love Diana Athill. The way she interprets her eveyday life is a joy to read. I find myself nodding as I read saying, "Yes I know exactly what you mean. I look forward to the sequel.
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on 4 March 2015
It's interesting to read about the childhood of a woman in an upper middle class household who because of status and money had many privileges. Diana was able to develop from this, to have her own views and a busy fulfilling life, coping with rejection from her boyfriend and working for a living. The part about being old is very brief but seems homest and thoughtful.
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on 22 August 2010
This book is great,written from the heart and so cleverly and clearly wrote. From the minute I started to read this well presented book I just couldn't stop.If you like honest and descriptive writing at it's best buy this book, enjoyable for both women and men.
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