I love the fact that Sagan blew her £75 advance for Bonjour Tristesse on whisky and a chic black sweater. But she got the last laugh, and plenty more jumpers, because the novel was eventually translated into twenty languages, sold 2 million copies and was made into a film starring David Niven and Deborah Kerr . . .
A lot of the stories I loved most as a child involved doors. Aged about 4, I suppose, I passed through the small, latched door in the hillside, into Mrs Tiggywinkle’s flagged kitchen, filled with the ‘nice, hot, singey smell’ of ironing, busy and reassuring. A few years later came the doors into Narnia, the Secret Garden and Wonderland, Bilbo Baggins’s ‘perfectly round’ green door with its shiny yellow brass knob ‘in the exact middle’, the door into the Yellow Dwarf ’s home in the orange tree, and the dark door into Bluebeard’s bloody chamber . . .
But reading to my own children, the door I’ve been happiest to pass through again is the door into Tom’s Midnight Garden – a door one can only imagine because, unlike most of the others, it is never described.
The literary editor, novelist, memoirist and lady of letters Diana Athill turns 100 today, and is still writing. To celebrate her birthday, we are delighted to share the article she wrote for Slightly Foxed in Issue 28, Winter 2010.
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There is no book more haunting than W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. I would not advise anyone unfamiliar with his earlier books to make it their introduction to his work, because his decision to do away, in this one, with paragraphs, and the way in which the narrative unfolds, are disconcerting enough when first encountered to be off-putting. It is necessary to make an act of trust – to put yourself in his hands; and this may be a problem for anyone who has not yet learned to trust him by reading his wonderful The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn and Vertigo. I doubt whether I would have persisted beyond the first thirty-odd pages of Austerlitz if I hadn’t already learned that wherever Sebald led, I must follow him . . .