The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Fiction about old age

Posted on: March 1, 2008

All the discussion about Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel has me wondering about fiction that dealt with old age, in general. Are there any other notable examples? I don’t mean the sort where the guy/gal is on death’s bed about to croak and they wheeze out the great adventure that was his/her life, or we get to read their journal, or some such. Fiction that focuses as much, if not primarily, on the character’s experience as an elderly in comparison to any flashbacks on the old days.

I know that the movie Away From Her was based on an Alice Munro short story but I wouldn’t mind some novel recommendations.


19 Responses to "Fiction about old age"

Good question. I wonder this myself.

Try Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead – it’s stunning, and is the best example I can think of…

Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori comes to mind, and Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn. Both are novels that focus on a group of elderly people and the issues that beset them. The Pym is rather touchingly redemptive.

Thanks, Logophile and litlove! Interesting that, so far, only female authors are popping up. And now I’ll have an excuse to read Gilead since nothing said about it before got me excited.

oh it is an interesting question. there was once a short-story read on the radio about an “old woman” (i think she was 60-something). if i remember correctly, it was told from the pov of her daughter.

i was so offended that i dug up an email address for the author and wrote her that the way she had portrayed this mother: feeble, zany, frightened, etc. did not only a disservice to older people, but it was just plain off base.

she never answered.

i was so sorry to read that you were ill, dear. i’m delighted you’re rallying, and hope you’ll be patient with yourself.

You might try Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont–it reminded me of The Stone Angel, though there are no flashbacks really and the characters are vastly different. It was one of my favorite reads last year. I also have heard good things about All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West, but I’ve yet to read it.

Thomas Bernhard’s “Old Masters”
Lots of Beckett – e.g., “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Malone Dies”
Faulkner – one of the stories in “Go Down, Moses”
Eudora Welty – “A Worn Path”
What’s-his-name, “The Old Man and the Sea”
Balzac – “Pere Goriot” and “Cousin Pons”
Cooper – “The Prairie”
Nabokov – “Signs and Symbols”

Every other recent Phillip Roth novel? Kidding, sort of.

This is a good question – pretty tricky. Not as common as one might think. Ask for the inverse – novels about children – and you’d never know where to stop.

Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger is another — it is made up of flashbacks, but with lots of scenes with the elderly main character.

Off the top of my head, Philip Roth – “Exit Ghost”

Something by Vita Sackville-West, “All Passion Spent” – not sure if that’s what you’re looking for.

May Sarton wrote a few journals on her latter years, as well as some novels with aging/dying protagonists. “As We Are Now” is one of them.

Will drop more titles if I can recall.

Thank you, everyone, for all the recommendations! How funny that for the most part the suggestions were all by female authors.

Amateur Reader “Whats-his-name”? 😮

lotusgreen I am trying to be! But I do have a lot to do, so I just eat a lot of fruits and meat and hope that does the job :p

Dorothy ooo, I like Penelope Lively, so I look forward to that one.

You know, the guy with the beard.

Who wrote the Sun Also Rises one of the greatest books ever!? That bearded guy whose name you do not deign to type? (again :o.)

There. That wasn’t so bad, was it? I’ve tried to read Old Man and the Sea twice but lost the mood for it…twice. Should try again later this year maybe.

Another book by a female writer: Love, Again by Doris Lessing.

More men: What about King Lear?
Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils.
Ed Begley’s About Schmidt (lovely movie)
Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet

A fast read and powerfully bittersweet tragi-comedy called The Leisure Seekers by Michael Zadoorina – LOVED it. Elderly couple take off to CA in their old RV for one last blast. Sad and realistic, husb with Alzheimers and wife with cancer.
Also Elephants For Water: the sub-plot is eye opening and memorable becasue the protagonist is residing in a nursing home while he recounts the story..Again, thought-provoking. I wish every one working in that type situation would be required to read these just to understand the patients.
Also, not so much about aging as dying and giref, but Joan Didion’s Year Of Magical Thinking had me scribbling passages to remember.

Mrs Ted Bliss by Stanley Elkin (?), and Patrick White’s The Eye of the Storm

I found this discussion as I was searching for fiction titles about aging to use in a library book discussion series. These are all great suggestions! Now, any ideas for novels that deal with aging in other countries?

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