Several years ago, Diana Athill accepted that she could no longer live entirely independently and moved to a retirement home in Highgate. There, she found herself released from the daily anxieties of caring for her own property and free to settle in to her remaining years.
From this vantage point, she reflects on what it feels like to be very old and on the moments in her long life that have risen to the surface and which sustain her in these last years. What really matters in the end? And after a long life, which memories stand out as she approaches her 100th year?
With vivid memories of the past mingled with candid, wise and often very funny reflections on what it's like to be very old, Alive, Alive Oh! reminds us what really matters and of the joy to be found at every stage of life.
©2015 Diana Athill (P)2015 Audible, Ltd
Writer and audiobook reviewer.
Diana Athill is undoubtedly to be admired for her elegant writing and her astute mind and memory which she has retained into a very old age. Some memories are delightful, such as those of her grandparents' garden which held the serenity of a church. Amongst all the luscious fruits it produced she refused to eat only the figs because she believed that a dead donkey was buried at the base of the fig tree according to the old custom. Some memories go back to childhood; capture her disappointment on her 21st birthday when she received a musquash coat when she hankered after a sable one; return to Oxford in the 1930s; recall her married lover whose baby she miscarried horribly; her love for her mother; her pleasure in Byron and her remembered travels; the process of giving away her possessions before entering her Highgate retirement home where she describes a charming scene of her and a few other very elderly residents succeeding in planting six David Austin roses.
All this is a great addition to Athill's other memoirs, so I'm not sure why I didn't enjoy this download. I felt a lack of warmth and this I think was the narrator's voice. I've never heard Diana Athill speak, but I imagine that Sheila Mitchell made a good approximation of her voice. A young voice would obviously have been inappropriate, but this narrator's voice lacked the upbeat enthusiasm and quiet exuberance of Athill's words - however naturalistic it may be, it actually became rather tiresome. I'm forced to conclude something which I almost never feel from an audio download - that it would be to read the book!
I have enjoyed listening to all of Diana Athill's audiobooks and would have to rate this the best of the lot. From one perspective, there is a lot of duplication and revisiting of material from "Somewhere Towards the End" and "Stet," but for me, it's dealt with better in this book. The recollections of her sexual experiences and her miscarriage, for example, overlap considerably with "Somewhere Towards the End," but the miscarriage in particular is described in a more thorough and moving fashion. For someone wandering which of her audiobooks to choose, I would strongly recommend making this the first choice. And if you enjoy it, then try her short stories, followed by "Stet."
Loved Diana Athill's writing and being able to listen to her words was such a treat. A must read for every living soul.
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