The top 5 posts about older women in fiction on Bookword

There are people who are less visible in our world, less visible than white, middle-aged males or beautiful young people. We need to see images, read books, watch plays and films about the less visible to understand their experiences. Fiction allows us to enter other lives and other worlds that we might not otherwise understand.

The Bookword series focusing on older women in fiction began after I attended a course about growing older and examples of older women in fiction seemed hard to bring to mind. I began to seek out and review fiction about older women. To date there have been 18 reviews and 3 associated posts. I have been able to see which posts attract most readers since I changed some things on my blog.

The five most read posts on older women in fiction

These are the five most read posts, with links.

Mrs Palfrey grey

  1. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor explores some of the painful and amusing aspects of being older and neglected by family. A key word might be dignity.
    151 E missiing cover 3

2. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. I loved the respectful portrait of Maud who is becoming increasingly confused. There is much humour in this book, but not at her expense. It does reveal the confusion and debility of cognitive decline. And it raises important issues about family and intergenerational care for people with dementia.

25 Stone Angel

3. The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, A Canadian novel, telling the story of Hagar Shipley resisting the consequences of her family’s attempts to do what they believe is best for her as she ages

188 Mrs D cover

4. Mrs Dalloway is Ageing. This post focused on a rereading of Mrs Dalloway, exploring the theme of ageing in Virginia Woolf’s novel. There is, of course, so much more to find there.

139 P to I cover 2

5. A Passage to India by EM Forster. The portrait of Mrs Moore is one of the many attractions of this classic novel. Mrs Moore infuses the action long after she departed.

Over to you

There is a fine list of nearly 50 titles of fiction relating to older women compiled with the help of readers. Add to the list!

Does the most read list surprise you? Which book would recommend for the top five stories of women ageing? Is it included in the Bookword list?

Please add your comments.

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Filed under Books, Elizabeth Taylor's novels, Older women in fiction, Reading, Reviews, Virginia Woolf

21 Responses to The top 5 posts about older women in fiction on Bookword

  1. Diversity is good for us, so it’s great that you are waving the flag for the older woman in fiction. Of these, I particularly remember your review of A Passage to India, and the way you showed the complexity of the character of Mrs Moore.

  2. The Aunts Story by Patrick White comes to mind immediately, though I haven’t read it since more than half lifetime ago.
    I’m also thinking of the characters by Alexander McCall Smith, especially Isabel Dalhousie.
    I’m not sure if these meet your requirements, but I have personally experienced the invisibility you describe. It’s not a good feeling.

    • Caroline

      Thank you Norah for these new suggestions. I’ll have to look them up and see how they fit. Really the only requirement is they are about 60 or over. You will see soon that I recently donwngraded Mrs Ramsay from To The Lighthouse on the grounds that she probably wasnt over 60.

    • Caroline

      Hi Norah, my limited research suggests that the Aunt in Patrick White’s novel is middle aged. And that isobel Dalhousie in in her early 40s. Neither quite qualify. I wonder what it was about those characters that prompted you to suggest they were older? Their behaviour or appearance perhaps.
      Thanks for the suggestions. Please make more if they come to mind.

  3. I had the interesting experience of interviewing Emma Healey for my blog last year. She speaks so beautifully about dementia, the importance of small insignificant things, about writing.

    She wasn’t so keen at the time about the idea of the book being televised. It now is. I await the drama with trepidation and interest because Maud has such a rich inner life that like Emma, I struggle to see how this could be conveyed on screen.

    • Caroline

      Hi Nicola, I didnt realise that this book will be televised. I have mixed feelings I think: it will fail to capture some of the richness of the novel. But it will, I hope, show with respect an older woman with dementia.
      And I hope Emma gets rich! Someone should from their writing.
      I’ll look at your interview very soon.
      Thanks for the comment

  4. First, Caroline, I’ve loved getting your newsletter and I so appreciate your focus on finding books that focus on older women. Thank you for higlighting these books. I will double check the rest of your blog and lists soon but I would strongly recommend “An Unnecessary Woman” by Rabih Alameddine. Not only is the main character an “invisible woman” but the supporting characters are also women of a certain age. Also: Stuart O’Nan’s “Emily, Alone.” Interestingly, both of these books are by men. I loved “The Woman Upstairs” by Claire Messud. I will look for others on my shelf very soon. This is all wonderful. Thank you.

    • Caroline

      Thank you Betsy. I see that you have been inspired to search out more older women. I’m looking forward to reading the novel by Rabih Alamedinne. Thanks for the confirmation of a strong recommendation. Go on searching your book shelves. I’ll add the suggestions when I next update.
      Thanks so much for your comments

    • Caroline

      Hi Betsy, I will include your first two suggestions on te list. But The Woman Upstairs in only 42, which doesnt quite make my age category. It is interesting to think about what prompted you to suggest the inclusion in older women category. Her behaviour?
      Look forward to more suggestions.

  5. And what about Alexander McCall’s “Ladies Detective” series? That’s wonderful. Again, interestingly, by a man. I am now on the hunt for more novels about older women written by women. The character in my new novel is forty-nine. I’m working on two projects involving women their fifties and sixties. When is a woman old? That question will keep me busy for the rest of the day!

  6. Love this post & the ethos behind it… much to discuss so I’ve bookmarked it to come back to.

  7. Marianne Coleman

    I was thinking of suggesting that you add the Doris Lessing book ‘the Summer before the Dark’ until I read that you are being fairly strict about the 60 cut off. This book certainly focused my mind on the invisibility of older women although the woman in question is in her early 50s. The question of when does a woman get old is difficult.

    I have just read a second book of Edith Pearlman’s short stories ‘Honydew’ where many of her central characters are older women and unusually, some with a sex life.

    • Caroline

      Hi Marianne,
      Doris Lessing’s Love Again has been reviewed in this series. I also enjoyed The Summer Before Dark for its depiction of a woman just tipping into becoming less visible to the world. But yes, she doesnt quite qualify for this series.
      Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision has also been reviewed for the series. I keep meaning to read this second collection, and now, prompted by you I will!
      Thanks for the suggestions.

      ps there seems to be an identical comment to this one so I have deleted it.

  8. It will probably comes as no surprise to you when I say I’m delighted to see Mrs Palfrey at the top of your list, one of my favourite reads of 2015! Of the other books in the top 5, the only one I haven’t read is Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. One for my wishlist, I think, especially given your comments here. Funnily enough, it’s cropped up a few times over the last year…always a good sign.

    • Caroline

      The Stone Angel was recommended to me a a reader on the blog. The protagonist is a feisty and awkward older woman, but with cause. It’s worth reading, and a very different to Mrs Palfrey.
      Thanks for the comment.

  9. Eileen

    Interesting that your readers identify older women that are written about by older men. What is the difference I wonder.

    • Caroline

      And I’m pleased that some recommendations are novels in translations I haven’t had any of those in the series yet.

  10. Eileen

    The question of when women are ‘older’ is difficult as you point out. The suggestions you received show this – women in their 40s and 50s in some cases. Older than what? Older than me?

    • Caroline

      I have argued (with you and in other places) that ‘older’ is often used as a euphemism for ‘old’. I think I do that on the blog. There are too many bad things associated with ‘old’ to use that word, including imminent death. Chronological age is easiest, and I have settled on 60/65. But I am aware you can act old at 45 and young at 90.

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