Alive, Alive Oh!

And Other Things that Matter

Diana Athill

Published: 19 November 2015
Hardback, B Format
129x198mm, 144 pages
ISBN: 9781783782543

Other Editions


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Published: 7 July 2016
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 144 pages
ISBN: 9781783782727

Ebook Available


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, precise detail the exact layout of the garden of her childhood, a vast and beautiful park attached to a large house; relates with humour, clarity and honesty her experiences of the First and Second World Wars and 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 losing her life - and her gratitude and joy on discovering that she had survived.

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.

About the author

Image of Diana Athill

Diana Athill was born in 1917. She helped André Deutsch establish the publishing company that bore his name and worked as an editor for Deutsch for four decades. Athill's distinguished career as an editor is the subject of her acclaimed memoir Stet, which is also published by Granta Books, as are several further volumes of memoirs, Instead of a Letter, After a Funeral, Yesterday Morning, Make Believe, Somewhere Towards the End, and Alive, Alive Oh!, the travelogue A Florence Diary, a novel, Don't Look at Me Like That, and a collection of letters, Instead of a Book. In January 2009, she won the Costa Biography Award for Somewhere Towards the End, and was presented with an OBE. She lives in London. More about the author


‘[She] bathes us in lush imagery... If I'm making a mountain out of an Athill, it's because the author doesn't merely beckon you in for a sit-down and a cuppa; she springs a back panel to her mind and guides you down the thought paths inside - some dark, others dappled, all converging confidently on the things that truly matter in our lifetimes’



‘[This book] contains [Athill's] often moving and always engaging reflections on what really matters as you face the final curtain...The sheer candour with which she writes and the overwhelming sense of a life fully lived are both quite marvellous’

‘[With] sparkly, astute pieces [...] it's an essential read. Not momento mori; it's a celebration of life’ Rebecca Foster

‘A gloriously wise and knowing collection of memories... [written] with her usual clarity, frankness and unsentimentality’ Danuta Kean

‘A series of amusing anecdotes’

‘A thoughtful meditation on old age and the end of life’ Houman Barekat

‘A vivid sensual apprehension of physical pleasure [...] informs the best writing in this book’

‘Abundant, earthly and spiritual’ Book of the Week

‘As a manifesto for living to the full [it] couldn't be better’

‘As a manifesto for living to the full [it] couldn't be better’

‘Astonishingly vital and fiercely intelligent... Athill seems always to be completely honest and without unnecessary sentiment’

‘Athill is a gifted chronicler of old age’ Christena Appleyard

‘Athill shows an editor's trust in the value of precise language and a Jane Austen-like trust in the ability of abstractions to express and define thoughts and feelings.’ Rebecca Reynolds for blog

‘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

‘Clear, brisk, fascinating!’ Margaret Atwood

‘Full of clear fresh air and bright distance’ Open Book, Radio 4

‘In her late nineties [Diana Athill] tells us what she remembers of her life. It's about the past, certainly, but it's also about memory - a whole century dancing through one person's mind. Beautifully done and inspiring.’ William Leith

‘Infused with joie de vivre’ Lucy Scholes

‘Jam-packed with joie de vivre’

‘Long live long life, say I, if it produces books as brave as these’ John Sutherland

‘Prodigious diarist Diana Athill looks back with her usual mix of spike and spark on a formidable life’

‘Publishing legend Diana Athill has led a fascinating life, as revealed in her raucous, emotive and wise memoir’

‘Sometimes bawdy, always bold and forever spirited’

‘The main message of Alive, Alive Oh! ... is that it's the quiet times, not the big ones that ultimately bring us the greatest joy’

‘The remarkable story of her outwardly conventional life’

‘There are... many treasures in this heterogeneous cabinet of curiosities

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