‘Don’t Look at Me Like That’ by Diana Athill – A Young Woman in the Swinging 1960s


‘Don’t Look at Me Like That’ by Diana Athill    (1967) – 185 pages


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many candid coming-of-age novels were written by young women, dramatizing the new freedom that a young woman had and some of the problems this freedom presented. ‘Don’t Look at Me Like That’ is a novel that fits in that category. By the late 1960s, things had opened up for young women to some extent before closing down later.

Meg Bailey is the daughter of a low-paid parson and his wife who live near Oxford. Even from the first line of this novel Meg gives us an honest forthright assessment of herself:

When I was at school, I used to think that everyone disliked me, and it wasn’t far from true.”

Despite her lack of friends, Meg is taken up by another girl at school, Roxane Weaver, and Roxane’s mother. The two girls hit it off right away, and they remain best friends through the years.

Meg is artistic, but during her school years comes to realize she does not have what it takes to be an artist. However she has just enough talent to pursue a successful career as a children’s book illustrator in London.

As she grows up, Meg develops a better opinion of herself:

I am going to say something which I have never said before; and something which, when it has been said to me, I have usually half-pretended not to hear. I am a pretty woman.”

Problems arise when Meg begins a long-standing affair with her best friend Roxane’s husband, Dick Sherlock.

The author of this perceptive coming-of-age novel, Diana Athill, is famous for the many memoirs she wrote. I never learned to appreciate memoirs. Fiction has always been my thing, so when I learned that Athill had wrote this one single novel I decided to read it.

The era of the free-spirited and swinging 1960s depicted in ‘Don’t Look at Me Like That’ now seems so long ago and so far away that reading about it today seems almost like reading historical fiction.


Grade:    B



2 responses to this post.

  1. By an odd coincidence, I very recently starting looking for a copy of this novel as I was interested in reading some of Athill’s fiction. I do have the Persephone volume of her short stories, which is one of my Back to the Classics Challenge books that I will hopefully get to in the next few months.
    I don’t normally read memoirs either, but Athill’s fall in a different category altogether, or at Stet., does (I think I read two or three; Stet. was the best). It was really fascinating to hear her take on the many famous writers with whom she worked so closely as an editor.

    Liked by 1 person


    • HI Janakay,
      Once in awhile I do read a memoir. One memoir I’ve read that was outstanding is ‘Goodbye to All That’ by Robert Graves. And I do read the occasional memoir of a celebrity, but I usually don’t count those in with my fiction reading. Somehow I see many memoirs as an exercise in self-justification. The best memoirs contain stories about their friends as you mention those of Diana Athill are.

      Liked by 1 person


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