about the older women in fiction series

I am interested in older women in fiction, and want to encourage readers to read these books and make comments. Every two months, or more frequently at times, I post a review of fiction featuring an older woman. Below you will find the up-to-date list of books reviewed on this blog and a list of suggestions from friends, readers and me. There are now about 100 items on this list. I may have to speed up my comments before they overwhelm me!

Please propose or suggest additional books you would like to see discussed which have a strong older women character. Thanks to all those who have added to the list.

Please make suggestions for future posts. Add a comment or make your suggestion in the box below:

Older Women in Fiction List

* Comments on Bookword with link.

Rabih Alameddie                 *An Unnecessary Woman

Radwa Ashour                     *The Woman from Tantoura

Elizabeth von Arnim           *The Enchanted April

Paul Bailey                            * At the Jerusalem

Constance Beresford-Howe * The Book of Eve

Caroline Blackwood *Great Granny Webster

Joanna Cannon                     *Three Things About Elsie

Leonora Carrington *The Hearing Trumpet

Anita Diamant                      *The Boston Girl

Monica Dickens                    *The Winds of Heaven

Margaret Drabble                *The Dark Flood Rises

EM Forster                            *A Passage to India  (Mrs Moore)

Jane Gardam                         *The Man in the Wooden Hat

Nicci Gerrard                        *The Twilight Hour

Beryl Gilroy                          *Frangipani House

Kent Haruf                            *Our Souls at Night

Emma Healey                       *Elizabeth is Missing

Winifred Holtby                   *South Riding

Emma Hooper                      *Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg      *The Little Old Lady who Broke all the Rules

Ismail Fahd Ismail               The Old Woman and the River

Cynan Jones                          *The Dig

Tove Jansson             *The Summer Book

Marianne Kavanagh            * Should You Ask Me

Margaret Laurence              *The Stone Angel

Doris Lessing                        *Love, Again

Penelope Lively                    *How it All Began

                                                *Moon Tiger

Sarah Lapido Manyiko       *Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun

Joseph O’Connor                 *Ghost Light*

Tillie Olsen                            *Tell Me a Riddle

Yewande Omotoso              *The Woman next Door

Edith Pearlman                    *Binocular Vision

Alf Proysen                           * Mrs Pepperpot Stories

Barbara Pym                         *Quartet in Autumn

Kathleen Rooney                  *Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Vita Sackville West              *All Passion Spent

Annette Sanford                  *Eleanor and Abel

May Sarton                           *A Reckoning

Iain Creighton Smith           *Consider the Lilies

Elizabeth Strout                    *Olive Kitteridge

                                                *Olive, Again

Magda Szabo             *The Door

Elizabeth Taylor                   *Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

*Learning about Ageing from Mrs Palfrey

Josephine Tey                       *The Franchise Affair (Mrs Sharpe)

Olga Tokarczuk                    *Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

Velma Wallis             *Two Old Women

Dorothy Whipple                 *Greenbanks

Sarah Winman                      *A Year of Marvellous Ways

Anne Youngson                   * Meet Me at the Museum

Other Recommendations from readers:

Isabel Allende           The Japanese Lover

Jessica Anderson      Tirra Lirra by the River (Nora Porteous)

Lynda A. Archer      Tears in the Grass

Thea Astley               Coda

Margaret Atwood    The Blind Assassin (Iris)

                                     Stone Mattress (Short Stories)

Sebastian Barry        On Canaan’s Side

Alina Bronsky          The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

Angela Carter           Wise Children (the twins)

Agatha Christie        Miss Marple series

                                    The Seven Sisters

Tracy Farr                  The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt

Catherine Finch        Walking Apart

Fannie Flagg             Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Margaret Forster      Isa and May

Patrick Gale              Notes from an Exhibition (GBH)

                                    The Whole Day Through (Professor Jellicoe)

Nina George             Little French Bistro

Lesley Glaister          Little Egypt

Graham Greene        Travels with my Aunt

Winifred Holtby       Poor Caroline

Barbara Lorna Hudson       Timed Out

Siri Hustvedt           The Summer without Men

Joy Kogawa               Obasan

Minna Lindgrun      The Lavender Ladies Detective Agency Series,

Fiona McFarlane      The Night Guest

Rachel Malik             Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves

Olivia Manning        School for Love (Miss Bohun)

Erwin Mantier          While the Gods were Sleeping

Jill J Marsh                Beatrice Stubbs series

David Mitchell         Ghostwritten (Chinese woman and Irish scientists)

Minae Mizumura     Inheritance from Mother

Deborah Moggach   The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Toni Morrison          Beloved

Kyoto Nakajima       The Little House

Helen Nicholl           The Traveller’s Guide to Love

Elizabeth Nunez      Boundaries

Sofi Oksanen            Purge

Louise Penny            Three Pines mysteries

Pat Rossier                Poppy’s Progress

                                    Poppy’s Return

Bernice Rubens         The Five Year Sentence

Carol Shield              The Stone Diaries (Daisy Goodwill Flett)

Paul Scott                  The Raj Quartet and Staying On

Wm Shakespeare     The Winter’s Tale (Paulina)

J Courtney Sullivan Maine

Lucy Treloar             Wolfe Island

Joanna Trollope        Various

Anne Tyler                Almost anything she has written

Salley Vickers           Miss Garnett’s Angel

                                    Dancing Backwards  

Elizabeth Von Arnim          Love, 1925

                                    Mr Skeffington

Alice Walker             The Colour Purple (Celie)

                                    Possessing the Secret of Joy (Tashi)

Mildred Walker        The Southwest Corner, 1951, US

Ruth Zardo               Louise Penny Mysteries

And … [*Mrs Dalloway is Ageing]

The Top 5 Posts of Older Women in Fiction Seriesin January 2016

Bookword’s Top Ten stories of women’s old age posted in September 2015

The history of this list and theme you can find in the posts called Onward, Old Legs (in July 2013) and Strong Older Women in Fiction(May 2013).

38 Strong W books

70 Responses to about the older women in fiction series

  1. Anne

    ‘All Passion Spent’ by Vita Sackville-West

  2. I found this group last month and bought the book, but then I lost it. Glad to find it again. I am old enough to want to read these books and to find them often a bit scary.

  3. Caroline

    It’s so annoying when you lose a book isn’t it? Glad you found it again. Did you mean Moon Tiger – if so, what did you think of it? But if you mean Greenbanks I look forward to reading your comments in October. Thanks for visiting the blog.

  4. Christine Bennett

    Dear Caroline,
    Just discovered your blog when looking up “Elizabeth Bowen Jane Austen” on Google. I’ve never done this before (joined a blog), but you look like a kind person, and I’m a reader and a writer, and certainly an older woman, and consequently interested in how older women are portrayed in fiction (and elsewhere). I’ve never heard of May Sarton, but I have read some of the other books you picture on this page, so – deep breath – here goes! I hereby resolve to read A rechoning by May Sarton, and I look forward to an exchange of ideas with other readers and writers.

  5. Christine Bennett

    aha! well – discovered there is “A Reckoning” by May Sarton, as well as other books, and assume that is what you meant.

    • Caroline

      Whoops, thanks Christine. I have now corrected the title of May Sarton’s book.
      I look forward to sharing thoughts about A Reckoning with you.
      I hope you will enjoy your foray into blogs. Welcome.

      • Christine Bennett

        Well – it took a while to track down a copy of A Reckoning by May Sarton, then to my dismay, I found it was/is about cancer and dying of cancer. My mother died of cancer – horribly – and I am not the least interested in reading about cancer or dying of cancer. So – I’ll just opt out – but not without asking why people choose downer books. John Steinbeck said: It is the writer’s responsibility to inspire, uplift, and comfort.
        I’m also reminded of when I used to hold pot-luck dinners for my students to get to know me and each other. They would invariably bring some wine which I thought that they thought was indicative of their maturity and sophistication, and which I thought was harsh, astringent, overly oaked… And then they would avoid drinking the wine they brought, whilst guzzling my light, friendly, possibly “babyish”, Reislings…
        Well – thank you, Caroline – it looked like a good idea at the time…

  6. Caroline

    Hi Christine,
    I am so sorry that my choice of the next book for this Readalong would raise those unpleasant experiences of your mother’s death. My sympathies to you for that loss.
    I hope it wont put you off future Readlong books that include older women.
    I wouldnt want to push any downers on anyone, but I know that I want to explore aging with some good novelists and other readers, which often means exploring illness, and death.

    Best wishes

  7. Loving this blog. Very glad to see Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn and Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont on the list – two of my all-time favourite books (and authors). Also highly recommend The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington – a joyous surrealist novel with a protagonist in her nineties.

    • Caroline

      Hi Emma,
      Thanks for this suggestion by Leonora Carrington. It’s not one I was aware of. And thanks for your enthusiasm for the blog.

    • A few of my favourites:
      Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
      Donovan’s Station by Robin McGrath
      Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry

      • Caroline

        Hi Lara,
        these three suggestions are all new to me. Thank you so much for adding them to the list. I hope you enjoy finding some new books yourself!

  8. Marion Reid

    I am enjoying your blog, Caroline. I have just finished a new book, c2014, by Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing. I loved it, although it was sometimes gloomy. Life is sometimes gloomy, too.
    Maud is elderly, has Alzheimer’s, remembers lots from her childhood but not much from 10 minutes ago or yesterday. We learn about her early life in England just after WW II, and the book jumps back and forth between then and the present day. The story gives us detail on how her memory loss progresses, how her daughter cares for her, how they cope with daily life. I loved the story. The writing style is excellent.
    Now I’ll try some of your suggestions — lots to look forward to.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for your addition to my list, Marion.And for the positive comments about the blog. I wonder if you have read Linda Grant’s non-fiction account of her mother’s illness: Remind me who I am, Again. Your account of Elizabeth is Missing brought it to mind.
      Let us know what you think of the suggestions you pick.

  9. Kathleen Bethell

    So glad you included Barbara Pym on this list. I am now inspired to reread her books and to visit those authors you’ve included that I have not yet met.

    • Caroline

      Hi Kathleen, glad you like Barbara Pym. I love her rather under-stated novels. I probably will revisit them again myself soon. Please add any suggestions you may have to the list of older women in fiction. There are more than I originally thought.
      Thank you for visiting. Come by again. Caroline.

  10. Kathleen Bethell

    I would add to the list any of Louise Penny’s mysteries set in Three Pines for her depiction of the character Ruth Zardo, a foul-mouthed, curmudgeonly poet.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this addition. Ruth Zardo sounds like my idea of an older woman poet: foul-mouthed and curmudgeonly! I’ll add this to my list when I edit the page next week.

  11. I nominate Sebastian Barry — three of his novels star older women (based on his relatives): On Canaan’s Side, Annie Dunne and The Secret Scripture. They’re all wonderful reads.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this nomination, a new one on me. It’s always good to receive ideas about things you didn’t know. I’ll add it to the list next time I update.

      • The Irish do a nice line in older women, I find. Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light is another one, as is Michael Harding’s Bird in the Snow.

        • Caroline

          Good additions. Both Irish and both by men. Thanks for these. I’ll add them to the list when I next up date it. I used to think there wasn’t much but this list has now reached 50 titles.

  12. Cath

    I’m preparing a book blogger list for the publisher in my email address and would love to add your details to it. Can you please e-mail me at that address? Thanks, Cath

  13. A “senior commissioning editor” told me in a report on my novel that young people don’t like reading about older women, and neither do older people. Very disheartening, but I don’t think it is true. I hope not!
    For your excellent list, what about Deborah Moggach?

    • Caroline

      I wonder how your senior commissioning editor knew? Had they asked old/young people? Was that recently? Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey has done very well indeed.
      And anyway, commercial success is one thing. Good writing, topics that expand our understanding are another. Carry on writing Barbara. And hope you get published soon if it hasnt happened yet.
      Deborah Moggah’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is on the list. Are there others you want to nominate.
      Thanks for your comments.Please come back again.

  14. Morag Goldfinch

    Really interested in your list of older women in fiction. I looked back over my last year of reading and couldn’t find a single title featuring one. Quite disturbing, given my interest in this as someone fairly recently retired. What about Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout? It has an interesting format too – a novel in the form of interlinked short stories.

    Also – although she’s only “on stage” for part of the novel, Abbie, in Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, is a mature woman still active in the world and at the centre of her family life.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for these thoughts Morag. I don’t know the Elizabeth Strout, but will add it to the list when I update it. Yes Abbie is an interesting older woman in A Spool of Blue Thread. Not sure why I didn’t feature her.
      I’m very pleased to have alerted you to older women in fiction. Please come and comment again.

  15. Robin Dawson

    Olive Kitteridge is a worthy addition to the list, but I’d like to make two more suggestions. The housekeeper Emerence in The Door by Magda Szabo. She’s a feisty, indomitable character who takes over her employers’ lives and drives them crazy, yet when she finally closes the door at the end of her life her death leaves them devastated. The inclusion of a Hungarian writer increases the cultural diversity of your list.

    From the other side of the world (Australia) my 2nd suggestion is The Life and Loves of Lena Guant by Tracy Farr. This story is told by the eccentric Lena in her eighties, looking back on her bohemian life, her love for music, and Leon Theremin, the inventor of the theremin.

    • Caroline

      Thank you so much for adding these suggestions. You are right. They would add to the diversity of the list.
      I am especially drawn to your description of The Door.
      I will add to the list when I update it later this week.
      Thank you

  16. Some that I have enjoyed include Muriel Spark’s “Memento Mori” and Cathleen Schine’s “They May Not Mean To”. You have a wonderful list.

    • Caroline

      Hi Natalie,
      Thanks for these additions. I don’t know Cathleen Schine, They may not mean to, but I will look it up.
      Hope you enjoy the posts of older women in fiction.


  17. Lovely project which I’ve only just noticed! I have a few to add – all Aussie: Tirra Lirra by the river by Jessica Anderson (Nora Porteous is in her 70s), The enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (one of the characters would be over 60 as I recollect), Coda by Thea Astley (a wonderful book about an aging woman and her relationship with her two adult children), and a recent one called The night guest by Fiona McFarlane (you’ll find this one on my blog)

    As for that editing editor, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I read and loved The blind assassin and Tirra Lirra by the river (for a start) in my 30s and 40s.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for these suggestions. I have added them to the list.
      And I hope you can tune into the series now you have spotted it.

  18. Paul Bailey, At The Jerusalem – about an old people’s home.

  19. Susan Kavanagh

    One of Penelope Lively’s recent novels “How It all Began” is about what happens when a 74 year old woman breaks her hip. This accident sets off a series of incidents that impact the characters’ lives. Lively wrote this when she was about 80 and she is still at the top of her game.

    • Caroline

      Many thanks Susan for this suggestion. I rate Lively’s Moon Tiger very highly, so it will be a pleasure to see what this novel brings us. I have much admiration for Penelope Lively. She comes to Ways with Words at Dartington every year and gives a great talk every time.
      Do you have more older women suggestions?

  20. Grier

    I’ve read a number of your suggestions and am making a note of several titles. One to add is The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens. I’m really glad to have found this list.

    • Caroline

      Great – thanks for the new recommendation. I will add it to the page when I next update it.

      Hope you enjoy the choices from my list.


  21. Thanks you for the wonderful resource! More books for my TBR pile. I recently read “The Little French Bistro” by Nina George. I call it a coming-of-age story about a 60-year old woman.

    • Caroline

      So glad you have found this list of over women. And suggested an addition. I’ll put it on the list when I update very soon.
      And thanks for the subscription too.
      Best wishes and come back again and make more suggestions!


  22. Barb

    How about “The Book of Eve” by Constance Beresford-Howe?

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this suggestion. I don’t know it at all. I’ll investigate and include it on the list when I next update it.


  23. I would love to see my novels FLING! and FREEFALL: A DIVINE COMEDY included in on this page and, if possible, reviewed. FLING! features a feisty 90 year old (Bubbles), and FREEFALL challenges the conventional notions of aging in its four 60 year-old female characters. FREEFALL’s major theme is no matter how old we are, we’re still trying to “find ourselves” and discover what we want out of life.

  24. Susan Dillon

    I’d like to recommend Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner and Jazz by Toni Morrison.

    • Caroline

      Thank you so much for these recommendations. I will check out Jazz.
      I like Lolly Willowes very much, but I don’t think she qualifies as an older woman. She’s more ‘mature’ when she decides to go and live as a witch. But I’ll check her out.

  25. Helen Nicholl

    I’m delighted to have found your list. And at the risk of being immodest, can I recommend my own book? The Traveller’s Guide to Love was published by Blackstaff Press in 2015 when I was 66. All good wishes. Helen

    • Caroline

      Congratulations on getting your book published. I assume the female character is over 60-ish? I will add it to the list when I next update it. Beest wishes

      • Helen Nicholl

        Sorry Caroline, only just seen this. Joanna’s age is not specified but she has adult children and is very aware of growing old. I wrote it because I felt there was a dearth of humorous, romantic, but well-written fiction about older women, and aimed at the older reader. Men included – one elderly woman at a signing told me it was the only book that had ever made her husband laugh out loud!
        Enjoying your list – lovely children’s recommendations too.

        • Caroline

          Hi Helen,
          age is a tricky term and I try not to be absolute in my definitions – hence the rather vague ‘older’ women in fiction. It’s all relative and I am more interested in women characters for whom awareness of growing older is a feature, or they are forced to face it by some event (eg widowhood, illness) than absolute numbers.
          Your protagionist may not have an age, but it sounds like she fits in!
          What do you think?

  26. It’s
    “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe”
    not Onions

  27. Marianne Coleman

    Hi Caroline

    I have just read Clockdance by Anne Tyler. It is her latest and perhaps not her very best, but many, if not all of her 20 or so books feature older women and all are very good reads. I would like to nominate her for your list.

    • Caroline

      Thank You Marianne. I agree, Anne Tyler does older women very well, and family relationships over time are also an excellent aspect of her writing. The Accidental Tourist review on Bookword is still popular. I love that book.
      Thank you for highlighting her skills with older women.
      Caroline x

  28. Anita Goodfellow

    This is a great blog. I recommend Walking Apart by Catherine Finch. It explores the challenges that happen in later life as it follows recently retired David and his wife, Helen who is finding it hard to let go of her job as a head teacher. This book is beautifully and sensitively written.

  29. Sara Walsh

    Interesting compilation that I’ll share with my book club — most of which are “ladies of a certain age.” Last year we read (or re-read, for many of us) “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson. The fictional Major’s last stand concerned a widow of Indian descent in very stuffy England, & was equally about her cultural and age-related issues. A nuanced and excellent read that we all enjoyed.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this suggestion and for sharing the list with your book group. The list is updated every two months. I hope you will visit again soon.

  30. Sarah Macdonald

    There are many favourites on this list! Barbara Pym especially. Carol Bruneau’s books come to mind, especially Glass Voices, about an older woman who has survived the Halifax Explosion in 1917.
    Bruneau is a Nova Scotian author who really should be more widely read. Excellent writer and especially strong on women “of character”.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for your comments on Barbara Pym, but also for the recommendation of Carol Bruneau’s Glass Voices. I will add it to the Older Women in fiction list and investigate myself!
      Come back and visit this blog again please.

  31. Thank you for your impressive and intelligent blog. I’m now making it my ‘go to’ place when searching for new reading inspiration.
    A recommendation for the Older Women in Fiction list is Lionel Shriver’s The Motion of the Body Through Space – which I’ve just finished. It’s very Lionel Shriver – acerbic, thought-provoking, and challenging -as is her heroine (one half of a married couple in their sixties). Very much a book for our time but quite a ‘Marmite’ read, I think.

    • Caroline

      Dear Dianne,
      thank you so much for your kind comments and for your recommmendation for the older women in fiction series. I have not read, or indeed come across this novel by Lionel Shriver.
      I am glad you expect to find suggestions for your future reads here. Just a reminder that if you want regular updates you can sned me an email and I’ll add you to my subscribers list, in privacy of course. lodgecm@gmail.com

  32. Dianne Bown-Wilson

    Thanks Caroline – I’m already on your list. Keep up the good work!

  33. Wonderful concept, wonderful list.Just read four novels for a book club task… My favorite was Diary of an Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster.The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Satterfield interesting but she commits a literary crime.

    • Caroline

      How very intriguing – a literary crime!
      So pleased you like the list and have made a couple of suggestions for additions. Please enjoy reading widely on the list and on the blog and comment when you feel moved to.
      Thank you.

  34. Dear Caroline,
    I would like to suggest the following book featuring an older woman as the central character: Trieste, by Dasa Drndic (translated from the Croatian, MacLehose Press). It’s – very broadly – a history of the Holocaust through the life of one Jewish Italian woman caught up in one of the sinister, bizarre Nazi projects for a “master race”.
    After coming across this series of yours, I’ve found it quite interesting to think more about characters from the point of view of their age and gender so: thank you.

    • Caroline

      Thank you so much for this recommendation. I am especially pleased because it is from a language that is not often translated into English.
      I am so pleased you have an eye to gender and age in your reading. I hope you find plenty of material in this list.
      Visit again soon.

  35. Susan Kavanagh

    I just read through your list again and saw that I suggested Penelope Lively’s How It All Began. You did a great job writing about that book a few years ago. I was going to recommend Lillian Boxfix Takes a Walk but see that someone beat me too it. One of the things that I really liked about this book ( beside it’s setting in New York) is how the author captures the disappointment that older people often experience when favorite places change or go away.

    • Caroline

      Thank you so much for your good ideas. Lillian Boxfish is the next book from that list to I will review. It will appear on 25th September. I really enjoyed this book as well as noting its darker side.
      One of Lillian’s strengths is her ability to absorb change, and we are challenged to as well by the description of the Twin Towers (World Trade Centre). While Lillian is disappointed when favourite places disappear she is also excited by continung newness in her great city and the persistence of Macy’s. I got a lot of fun from this book. Keep on recommending!

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