MOTIVATION for READING: Because CitizenReader told me to. Sort of. Not this specific title, but when I searched the library, I was captured by the cover. I must rethink my oft-repeated stance that I never choose a book by its cover. I do. Rarely, but I do.
FIRST SENTENCE: ” ‘OH MY GOD, said my mother. ‘Can I really have a daughter who is seventy?’ and we both burst out laughing.”
WHAT’s is ABOUT: Athill shares her childhood memories and reflections growing up ‘in the country’, in a big house with servants, boarding schools, her parents and siblings and cousins, first love, horses and everything else. It was exactly a very English upbringing and she brought out all the fun, oddities and miseries. Nothing grand, very personal, extremely insightful and quite enjoyable.
I loved the opening – my own mother often says she will no longer celebrate my birthday because it makes her feel old. I expect we will have this conversation a few more decades, considering her own mother lived three years past 100. People tease me that I am still a teenager (I am in my mid-forties now.)
“This childhood memoir is remarkable for its truthfulness … Athill writes with such skill and wit … a vivid picture of a childhood in a distant world.”
Athill is an excellent writer; effortlessly transporting the reader to a different time and place. She delights – and the reader does, too – in the joys of idyllic unchaperoned days roaming the countryside as a kid. She questions (now) the class system framed in how she was cared for and who she associated with. She frets over ‘proper’ behavior and expectations. She exposes her ideas about her parents’ marriage from within her early recollections and against the backdrop of their letters she found many many years later. She deftly weaves along her stories and though occasionally have a feel of being random, they all come together to portray how she became the woman she is. Actually, she teases, too. I now want to read more of her memoirs; especially Instead of a Letter which is more indepth about her becoming engaged to marry but then… didn’t. I am also curious about Stet which is about her career as an editor but I suspect it will feature many authors I do not know.
I feel like I’ve met a friend inside of a book. It is highly unlikely that I will ever meet her and would probably show myself grossly under-read if I had the opportunity to do so. She mentions many books and authors* that I am unfamiliar with but this wasn’t off-putting. It only increased my tbr. I loved that we are given plenty of photos.
“Five counters of different colours lined up on a table; the three-year-old child, already so good at the alphabet, being taught to count: one, two, three, four, five. I get it right at once and Mummy is delighted: ‘Look, she can count up to five already!’ But by the time an audience has collected the counters have been shuffled, and this time I say ‘Five, two, four, three, one’. ‘No, darling…’ but I insist ‘Yes’. They try again and again, until suddenly someone understands that I had never been counting, I had been naming. The yellow counter at the end of the row is called ‘five’, and it is still called ‘five’ when it comes at the beginning. They have to give up or I would be in tears at their misunderstanding. It was many days before I grasped what they meant by ‘counting’ and I was to remain a namer, not a numberer, for the rest of my life.” p.46
S (or the only one I noted… I probably skipped a few more.)
p. 35 chivvy – to harass, nag or torment. Also, to tell (someone) repeatedly to do something.
RECOMMENDED for anyone who wonders what it was like to grow up in England in the Twenties and who admires terrific writing.
* Favorite fiction-writers: Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Par Barker, Hilary Mantel. Martin Amis (the only one I’ve read!) left her cold. “A recent discovery, David Foster Wallace, who seems to be obsessional almost to the point of madness so that too often he threatens to smother the reader, has nevertheless done some of the best writing I have ever read, for which I am very grateful.”