cover image Letters to a Friend

Letters to a Friend

Diana Athill. Norton, $24.95 (300p) ISBN 978-0-393-06295-3

Only one side of the 30-year correspondence between longtime British author Athill, an editorial director at Andre Deutsch, and the American poet Edward Field is conveyed here, while the absence of Field’s replies are not adequately explained. The two began swapping letters between London and New York City in 1980, inspired by their mutual friendship with the difficult, somewhat mad Andre Deutsch author Alfred Chester (The Exquisite Corpse), who had died in 1971; Field was inquiring how to bring Chester out of “literary annihilation.” Over the course of the decades, Athill reveals a growing familiarly, fondness, and admiration for Field (“Darling Edward”) and for his longtime blind partner, Neil Derrick, who together visited her occasionally in London. Athill’s letters reveal literary gossip about her authors; enthusiasm for writing projects; home improvement works; travels with her cousin, Barbara; and a deeply ambivalent, changing relationship with Jamaican playwright Barry Reckord. Much of the correspondence devolves into details of the “creeping and wheezing” of getting old (Athill is now in her 90s, and Field is six years younger). Throughout this warm, enduring literary bond, Athill exposes a charming wit, vanity, and graciousness. (Apr.)