by Diana Athill
REVIEWED BY KIM HUBBARD
Diana Athill would like a pug, but buying a puppy "when you are too old to take it on walks is unfair." A tree fern seems safe, until the seedling arrives in the mail. "It is not possible," the 89-year-old realizes, "that I shall ever see [it] playing the part I envisaged for it in our garden."
Thus begins this bracingly frank memoir about "falling away," as Athill terms advanced aging—a time when even simple pleasures turn maddeningly complex. Yet her book is joyful rather than grim. Never married and now retired, she was a distinguished London editor and memoirist with a very full dance card; those rich, unconventional years obviously sustain her. Without sugarcoating, she offers clear-eyed wisdom of the grandma-you-wish-you'd-had variety. On the waning of desire: "Other things became more interesting." On red lipstick when you're over 70: You'll look like "a vampire bat disturbed in mid-dinner." Luck is key, she emphasizes, but so is attitude. Take that tree fern she's been tending: "I will never see it being a tree, but I underestimated the pleasure of watching it being a fern."