Top critical review
In Her Own Write
on 21 January 2013
This was my fourth Athill, after her Letters, Make Believe and After a Funeral. Not sure that's the right order to go about things; in theory one should start here as it's the meat and potatoes of her life, working as a publisher or rather editor for Andre Deutsch.
But I found this account the least compelling so far. Her reason for writing it is fair enough; that one day she would be dead and she didn't want those memories consigned to oblivion, but it doesn't smack of a tale that urgently needs to be told otherwise. It doesn't help that I didn't know of the publishing firm beforehand, what it stood for and how it related to others of the time, such as Pan or Penguin. You'll look in vain for much bitchy competitiveness or how Tom the office boy took a secretary of a rival publishing firm over the photocopier, and thereby discovered documents relating to a plot to lure one of their novelists away. It's all far too genteel for that, and these are very much reminiscences where, unlike in David Niven's memoirs, you're not really in the moment, it's always in the mode of looking back.
I was pleased that Athill admits that, being a woman, she often enjoyed playing second fiddle and no ambition for the top job so long as she was doing what she enjoyed. I feel this is often the case with women in the business world, however I then got stymied when I read about her boss Andre Deutsch. He really does come across as another neurotic in Athill's world, Lord she does pick 'em, and a solid reason why any woman would want to be her own boss frankly. Athill talks about her beady eye, but she also comes across as a sitting duck with regards to these fussy, self-infatuated types who know they can offload on her.
Though I enjoy Athill's prose a lot, I do find myself casting a swipe at her in my write-ups, it's very poor I admit.
Anyway, the book is better for me when she is analysing the authors in the Andre Deutsch stable, she is spot on here and that makes up the second half of the book. If nothing else, you'll have plenty to add to your reading list at the end of it.