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Instead of a Letter

Instead of a Letter

by Diana Athill, afterword by Lena Dunham

Regular price $16.95
Regular price Sale price $16.95
When Diana Athill, nearly forty-three and far from a household name, sat down to write Instead of a Letter, the first in her series of trailblazing memoirs, she was looking for an answer to the question “What have I lived for?” In this searching book, she recalls her childhood on her grandparents’ magnificent estate, the teenage romance that was certain to lead to marriage, her university days coinciding with the Second World War, and the sudden dissolution of her engagement, a loss that became the defining experience of the next twenty years of her life. Athill is as forthright in confessing her faults as she is in celebrating her triumphs. “From this table, with this white tea-cup, full ashtray, and small glass half full of rum beside me,” she writes, “I see my story, ordinary enough though it has all been and sad though much of it was, as a success story.”

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681376134
Pages: 224
Publication Date:


Supple, frank, unafraid of contradictions, Athill’s literary voice has all the courageous intelligence one associates with a certain type of British writer but none of the chill. This [is] the author’s scrupulous reckoning of her own single and childless existence . . . her work in publishing and the thrilling discovery that she, too, could write.
The New Yorker

Athill doesn’t write as if no one is watching; she writes as if she’d never even imagined someone might watch, and therefore doesn’t have a scruple to hold on to...she doesn’t pass off heartbreak as a blessing in disguise, or her subsequent successful career as a silver lining. Her abandonment was more like a signpost, something that pointed her to a brambly but invigorating path.
—Hillary Kelly, The New Yorker

Athill writes elegantly about the shabby gentility of her childhood and her later career as a literary editor, but the drama here is in her frankness about the struggle to rebuild a personality taken apart by sadness.
—Susie Steiner, The Guardian

The reader sees the transformation of the battered soul into a buoyant woman, open-minded and open-hearted.
—Hilary Mantel, Spectator

Her first and still most perfect perfect book.
—Carole Angier, Literary Review

This classic memoir . . . well deserves another airing.
Daily Mail

Above all, she was praised for her candor. Ms. Athill was noted in particular for her cleareyed, unflinching honesty about her sexual appetites—long deemed a taboo thing for women to have, much less write about—and the exquisite pleasure, and exquisite pain, that they had engendered.
—Margalit Fox, New York Times

Fantastic in her openness, her honesty, her humour, her complete lack of interest in what are commonly supposed to be life’s ordinary proprieties, but which are, usually, simply stultifying convention. To be in her presence was to be reminded that every day of one’s life is a gift and that it’s never too late.
—Erica Wagner, The Guardian

Perhaps Athill’s greatest legacy was her refusal to cede to societal expectations as she carved out a persistently unusual world for herself in which the demands of femininity—marriage and children, specifically—were rethought and redefined.
—Lena Dunham, The New York Times

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