Review: Living With a Dead Language by Ann Patty

Ann Patty was a well-known, New York based editor when she decided to retire. Bored and lonely, she decided to take up learning Latin and found herself as the oldest member of the class by a couple of decades. Devoted to learning this dead language, she gives it her all and then recounts it in this unusual memoir. 

What had the potential to be Patty's own version of Eat, Pray, Love--a biography of personal growth--is let down by the author's dull and self-indulgent retellings of her experiences and her meditations on language. There is little in this memoir that readers can take away. This is doubly disappointing given that learning Latin is hardly the most interesting part of Patty's career, which includes editing Booker Prize winning novel The Life of Pi, the creation of Simon and Schuster's hardcover imprint Poseidon Press and the part that is of most interest to me personally--that when she was a relatively young editor she discovered a short manuscript by an unknown author that went on to become a controversial bestseller--Flowers in the Attic. Following on from V.C. Andrews very sudden death in 1986, Patty actually auditioned for the role of ghostwriter but lost out to pulp horror novelist Andrew Neiderman. It subsequently alleged that Patty charged Neiderman money to edit the books (read more here) however in Living With a Dead Language, Patty more or less glosses over the whole thing. This a surprising move, given that in a rare interview with The Toast she claimed that she was writing a memoir and intending to talk about her relationship with VC Andrews and the books. Perhaps Patty truly finds Latin far more interesting and more important to talk about. Or, perhaps, that particular part of her career was painful, filled with harsh lessons and she would rather not look back at it, or be remembered for it. 

For me, this one was a disappointing read as I found myself let down by my own expectations. There are some fleeting mentions of V.C. Andrews, though most of the information is similar to what was revealed by Patty in previous interviews. 

Living With a Dead Language is a memoir about new beginnings, language and grammar. This will probably be of particular interest to readers who had a love of Latin and those who have been mature age students.


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