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 I post a review of fiction featuring an older woman. Below you will find the up-to-date list of books containing older women (60+) suggested by friends, readers and me. There are now nearly 60 items on this list. I may have to speed up my comments to get through them!

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 this list to date (August 2017).

The Schedule:

The most recent review is Two Old Women  by Velma Wallis

In February I will be reviewing another choice from the list below

Please make suggestions for February or April.

Add a comment or make your suggestion in the box below:

Older Women in Fiction List

* links to Bookword reviews.

Rabih Alameddie     *An Unnecessary Woman

Isabel Allende           The Japanese Lover

Jessica Anderson      Tirra Lirra by the River (Nora Porteous)

Lynda A. Archer      Tears in the Grass

Elizabeth von Arnim           *The Enchanted April

Radwar Ashar          The Woman from Tantoura

Thea Astley               Coda

Margaret Atwood    The Blind Assassin (Iris)

Stone Mattress (Short Stories)

Sebastian Barry        On Canaan’s Side

Leonora Carrington            *The Hearing Trumpet

Angela Carter           Wise Children (the twins)

Agatha Christie        Miss Marple series

Margaret Drabble    *The Dark Flood Rises

                                    The Seven Sisters

Tracy Farr                 The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt

EM Forster                *A Passage to India (Mrs Moore)

Howard’s End (Mrs Wilcox)

Margaret Forster     Isa and May

Patrick Gale               Notes from an Exhibition (GBH)

                          The Whole Day Through (Professor Jellicoe)

Jane Gardam             *The Man in the Wooden Hat

Nicci Gerrard            *The Twilight Hour

Linda Gillard             Various

Lesley Glaister          Little Egypt

Graham Greene       Travels with my Aunt

Michael Harding      Bird in the Snow

Kent Haruf                *Our Souls at Night

Emma Healey           *Elizabeth is Missing


Winifred Holtby       *South Riding

                                  Poor Caroline

Siri Hustvedt             The Summer without Men

Cynan Jones             *The Dig

Tove Jansson            *The Summer Book

Joy Kogawa              Obasan

Margaret Laurence  *The Stone Angel

Doris Lessing            *Love, Again

Penelope Lively        Heatwave

*Moon Tiger

Ian McEwan              Atonement (Bryony)

Fiona McFarlane      The Night Guest

Olivia Manning         School for Love (Miss Bohun)

Jill J Marsh                 Beatrice Stubbs series

David Mitchell          Ghostwritten (Chinese woman and Irish scientists)

Deborah Moggach   The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Toni Morrison          Beloved

Elizabeth Nunez       Boundaries

Joseph O’Connor     Ghost Light*

Stewart O’Nan          Emily Alone

Tillie Olsen                 *Tell Me a Riddle

Yewande Omotoso  The Woman next Door

Edith Pearlman         *Binocular Vision


Louise Penny            Three Pines mysteries

Alf Proysen               * Mrs Pepperpot Stories

Barbara Pym             *Quartet in Autumn

Pat Rossier                Poppy’s Progress

Poppy’s Return

Bernice Rubens         The Five Year Sentence

Vita Sackville West  *All Passion Spent

Carol Shield              The Stone Diaries (Daisy Goodwill Flett)

May Sarton               *A Reckoning

Paul Scott                   The Raj Quartet and Staying On

Wm Shakespeare     The Winter’s Tale (Paulina)

Elizabeth Strout        Olive Ketteridge

J Courtney Sullivan Maine

Magda Szabo              The Door

Joanna Trollope        Various

Elizabeth Taylor       *Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

[Also *Learning about Ageing from Mrs Palfrey]

Josephine Tey           *The Franchise Affair (Mrs Sharpe)

Salley Vickers           Miss Garnett’s Angel

Dancing Backwards

Alice Walker             The Colour Purple (Celie)

Possessing the Secret of Joy (Tashi)

Velma Wallis             *Two Old Women

Mary Wesley                Various

Dorothy Whipple     *Greenbanks

Sarah Winman          *A Year of Marvellous Ways

Ruth Zardo               Louise Penny Mysteries

And … [*Mrs Dalloway is Ageing]

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

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

35 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.

  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?

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