What resulted was “Instead of a Letter,” which chronicled her romance with Paul, his abandonment and the years that followed, during which, she wrote, “my soul shrank to the size of a pea.”
Writing the book proved restorative, and she kept going. Volume 2 of her memoirs, “After a Funeral,” recounted her passion for the Egyptian novelist Waguih Ghali, who shared her home but, despite her importuning, shared her bed only once.
The volume displays her typical painful honesty about herself, from her admission to having read Mr. Ghali’s diary to her recounting of what she found there:
“My reactions to Diana are sparked by my physical antipathy to Diana,” he wrote. “I find it impossible to live in the same flat as someone whose physical body seems to provoke mine to cringe.”
In December 1968, in that flat, Mr. Ghali swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills. He died the next month.
Volume 3, “Make Believe” (1993), centers on Ms. Athill’s affair with the African-American nationalist writer Hakim Jamal. After their romance ended, Mr. Jamal, who had become unstable and believed he was God, was murdered in Boston in 1973 by members of the militant black organization De Mau Mau.
Throughout her romantic life, Ms. Athill said, she found it a particular convenience to be “the other woman.”
“What I was really happy with,” she wrote in “Alive, Alive Oh!,” “was a lover who had a nice wife to do his washing and look after him if he fell ill, so that I could enjoy the plums of love without having to munch through the pudding.”