Reading lists

The best books that celebrate old age

Growing old isn't all doom and gloom. From Bernadine Evaristo to Howard Jacobson, here are some novels with brilliant older characters who breathe warmth into the winter of life.

Image: Penguin
Image: Penguin

Glance at the literary canon and you'll find no shortage of books that seek to capture the adventure, passion and romance of youth. By comparison, the ups and downs of old age can appear grossly overlooked – and when they do come into focus, the elderly are often the butt of the joke.

Indeed, according to a recent report by The Centre for Better Ageing, “media portrayals of older people have become increasingly negative, tending to represent older people as frail, dependent and in decline.”

But as anyone of a certain age knows, growing old is not all blue rinses, loose dentures and dementia. And Dumbledore and Gandalf are far from the only senior citizens flying the silver flag in literature. Look hard enough, and you'll find a wealth of books that explores the permutations of growing old – the hopes and fears, the nostalgia and regrets, the love, passion and excitement that punctuate our winter years. Look no further, in fact, than these great reads.

“How will you and your husband prove your love for each other when you can’t remember the past you’ve shared?”

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)

There comes a time in all our lives when our memories outweigh our hopes, and our past overtakes our future. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant is about just that – a beautiful reflection on memory and forgetfulness, set in a Tolkein-esque world of swords and dragons, told through the eyes of an elderly couple on a quest to find their lost son.

Trouble is, neither Axl nor Beatrice can remember why he's missing because an evil dragon has exhaled a mist that, once inhaled, wipes all memories of the past. So, what starts as a search for their missing boy becomes a quest for the very memories that make them who they are in a genuinely lovely portrait of late-life love, epitomised when a woman asks Beatrice: “How will you and your husband prove your love for each other when you can’t remember the past you’ve shared?”

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