Tuesday, 17 October 2017

STET: AN EDITOR’S LIFE by Diana Athill



Sometimes after I have greatly enjoyed a book by a little-known author, I am tempted to read more from them.  This is almost always a mistake.  I really enjoyed Diana Athill’s story of her big break-up, INSTEAD OF A LETTER, and so threw caution to the winds and purchased STET, the story of her career in publishing.  I should have held on tight to that caution.   I can’t quite tell why it was so dull, as the raw material is promising: plucky young Hungarian (ie Andre Deutsch) and disappointed English debutante create publishing start-up that goes on to big success. 

"The story began with my father telling me: ‘You will have to earn a living.’  He said it to me several times during my childhood (which began in 1917), and the way he said it implied that earning one’s living was not quite natural."

I wonder if this is part of the problem.  She was not of a class or a gender that ever had to work, so doesn’t seem to regard work as part of her own personal story.  She is bizarrely disconnected from the highs and lows of the journey, and descends to that lowest low of the upper class English memoir, name-dropping.  (Nadir of this style: Antonia Fraser’s horrifying MUST YOU GO: MY LIFE WITH HAROLD PINTER).  I did however find it useful for recommendations on what to read next, and so am picking my way through Deutsh’s back catalogue, finding such gems as the deeply obscure Zimbabwean memoir THE TOE-RAGS.  So that's something.


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