Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Thea Astley on aging

Regular readers of this blog will now that I’m a big fan of Thea Astley. One of her last novels (novella, actually) was Coda, a biting story about elderly widow Kathleen who is losing her memory but struggling, with little help from her self-centred children, to maintain some independence and, more, dignity. The book is full of wonderful acerbic insights that make you smile while hitting you in the guts at the same time. The novel opens with ‘”I’m losing my nouns”, she admitted.’

Here are some other excerpts:

… her oddities were increasing with age, her indifference to convention running counter to the refinements and pretentiousness of her children’s lifestyles.


… Public Service pension that drizzled brief fortnightly puddles of support into her bank account like a rusty tap.


She was scrabbling and rooting about for words in that old handbag of her years.

Astley’s early novels were exuberant, expansive in their imagery – though they too had satirical bite – but her last novels, particularly Coda and Drylands, were tighter, more spare. I wonder if that has something to do with her own aging, with no long having the gift of time?

Alice Joyce in her Booklist review, on Amazon, says “Astley’s high regard in her native Australia is understandable after reading this taut, compelling new novel about a strong-minded widow not yet ready to concede defeat and bow to the realities of her failing memory and the physical limitations of an aging body”. It is truly unfortunate that Thea Astley is not well-known outside Australia.

16 thoughts on “Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Thea Astley on aging

  1. Hi Sue. Enjoyed this review and the theme reminded me of one I did on Fiona McGregor’s ‘Indelible Ink’ and Joanna Trollope’s ‘Daughters-in-Law’ – Now that I am ‘middle-aged’ I love novels with feisty older female protagonists. I love that there seem to be more of them, or is it perhaps that I am noting them more? Anyway, adding Thea Astley to my reading list. Thank you.

    • Wah, I lost touch with your blogging. Will hop over there now to look. I’d like to read “Indelible ink”. I really should read some Joanna Trollope. Is MsTextual defunct? I visited there a little while ago and it seemed you’d stopped doing it and was sorry. Coda is a great novel.

  2. Thank you Sue for the lovely Comments on my blog. Yes, in a mad moment I axed ‘Ms Textual’ because it/I seemed to have an identity crisis. Some months later, realising that I really missed blogging, I decided that a magpie’s nest was a metaphor that summarised all the bits and pieces that appeared to make up my life. Plus, I had a clear focus in the ‘healthy ageing’ concept. Thank you so much for your generous support.

    • I’m glad because I really missed reading your posts. I sensed you were trying to work out your focus in the last posts on MsTextual so am glad you’ve found a new – and rather meaningful – focus. My main challenge is how to interact with Typepad … it might be me but I don’t seem to be able to subscribe to posts and comments easily. If you know something that would help me that would be great.

  3. I’ve read a couple of Thea Astley novels: Reaching Tin River and The Slow natives. Really liked ’em both.

    Re: Joanna Trollope, I throughly enjoyed Other People’s Children but a couple of her others were very disappointing. Well too romancey for me.

    • If anyone had read her overseas, it would be you I reckon! I have yet to read The slow natives but have read Reaching Tin River. She was rather prolific though she did also have a long career. My first of hers was The kindness cup. So impressive in language and so fearless. I think fearless is a good word for Astley.

      I shall look out for Other people’s children one day to get a sense of her Joanna Trollope.

  4. I’ve only read one (‘The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow’), and that was a good one, so I’d like to try some more – from the library, of course…

    • When I replied to Guy above, I thought to myself “and the other one would be Tony”! Multiple effects is a great book and a good example of her writing … I’ve read it twice. It’s in her more recent works. Others you might like from the latter part of her career are It’s raining in Mango, and Drylands … as well as, of course, Coda.

  5. I read Coda years ago for bookclub and remember finding it very moving. I think I bought at least one other book but haven’t read it yet.

    I do like those quotes – very evocative.

  6. What wonderful excerpts! Love the last one especially. But I wonder, what does it say about a person if she has never been one for convention even before she made the leap past 40?

    • Yes, I love that one too, Stefanie … as for your question, well time will tell, eh? I think though that the character Kathleen was never really conventional herself … which made it harder, from her children’s point of view, as she became older and less conventional!

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