Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter by Diana Athill
(Granta Books, 2015)

Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter

by Diana Athill

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 into 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, Athill recalls in sparkling detail the exact layout of the garden of her childhood, a vast and beautiful park attached to a large house. She relates with humour, clarity and honesty her experiences of the First and Second World Wars, her trips to Europe as a young woman and in the remarkable title chapter, describes her pregnancy at the age of forty-three, losing the baby and almost her life. 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.

Reviews

A gloriously wise and knowing collection of memories... [written] with her usual clarity, frankness and unsentimentality”
- Danuta Kean
Abundant, earthly and spiritual”
- Book of the Week
Athill's signature is precise, crisp phrasing of the kind that has the reader scrabbling for something with which to underline it... Full of life in the shadow of death”
- Caroline Criado-Perez
Full of clear fresh air and bright distance”
- Open Book, Radio Four
Infused with joie de vivre”
- Lucy Scholes