Cressida Connolly

Refreshingly outspoken

She was less bitchy than extremely shrewd and sharp-eyed, and didn’t hesitate to say about people exactly what she felt — though she did, I think, sometimes choose frightful people to munch up. . .

She was less bitchy than extremely shrewd and sharp-eyed, and didn’t hesitate to say about people exactly what she felt — though she did, I think, sometimes choose frightful people to munch up. . .

She was less bitchy than extremely shrewd and sharp-eyed, and didn’t hesitate to say about people exactly what she felt — though she did, I think, sometimes choose frightful people to munch up. . .

This is what Diana Athill has to say about interviews written by Lynn Barber, and it’s a pretty apt description of her own writing.

As is well known, Athill was an esteemed publishing editor throughout her working life (John Updike, V.S. Naipaul and Jean Rhys were among her authors), and wrote a beautiful memoir, called Instead of a Letter, about an early love affair which broke her heart. When she retired, she had plenty of hobbies with which to occupy herself: embroidery, watercolour classes, gardening, making quince jelly. But Athill is no ordinary old lady. She is blessed with what she calls ‘an inability to stop watching’, a habit which has made her produce another five volumes of memoir, winning her plaudits, prizes and an OBE.

Athill is acclaimed because she is highly intelligent, witty, observant and utterly irreverent. She may look like the distinguished former head of an Oxford college, but she’s as prickly and delightfully filthy-minded as a Joe Orton. She does not hesitate to speak ill of the dead, or dying; to mock the afflicted (herself very much included); to call a cock a cock and a fuck a fuck; and to admit that ‘A good dollop of fame would be delicious in one’s riper years, when consolations can be so sparse.’

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