Early last year, I wrote a Monday Musings on Older women protagonists. With my father having turned 100 last month, I figured it was time I explored older men protagonists in Australian literature. It proved a bit harder than I expected, but gradually books started to make themselves known to me.
As in my older women post, I’m using 60+ as my definition. (Please note that I am saying “older” here, not “old”, as I don’t see 60s as old, though perhaps it’s all a matter of perspective!) Of course, not all authors specifically state the age of their characters, so, as in my “older women” post, I’ve had to guess sometimes. Do correct me if you know I am way out!
My select little list is alphabetical by author (with links being to my posts). I have read most of the books below, but some before blogging.
Older men protagonists
- Peter Carey, Amnesia (2014): An old left journalist, and his university friends, consider their activist pasts against the current world and the ongoing need for activism.
- John Clanchy, In whom we trust (2019): Set in early 20th century Victoria, Father Pearse is a priest nearing 70, who wishes to retire and return to his Irish home, but there is trouble from his past that he is forced to confront and consider righting.
- JM Coetzee, Slow man (2006): A 60-year-old man suffers a cycling accident resulting in the amputation of a leg, and has to refigure how he is going to live.
- Elizabeth Jolley, Mr Scobie’s riddle (1983): Set in a nursing home, three 85-year-old men consider their lives, the past and the idea of home.
- David Malouf, Ransom (2009): A reworking of a section of the Iliad in which the aging Priam risks all to ask Achilles for the body of his son, Hector, asking, that is, for some humanity from Achilles.
- Alex Miller, Lovesong (2009): A retired novelist, living with his 38-year-old daughter, is told a love story which he shares with us through his own lens.
- Christos Tsiolkas, Damascus (2019): Covers the apostle Paul’s adult life, but focuses in particular on the lessons and understandings of three old men, Saul, Thomas and Timothy, in relation to the foundations of Christianity.
- Arnold Zable, Cafe Scheherazade (2001): Journalist Martin visits Cafe Scheherazade to hear stories about displacement from its Jewish owners and patrons, particularly three friends who are also old men, Yossel, Laizer and Zalman.
- Arnold Zable, Sea of many returns (2008): A dual point-of-view novel, with one of the POVs being a Greek-born grandfather who, in yearning for home, ponders the meaning of home and place in our lives.
Ross King, writing in The Guardian in 2016 about older men protagonists, says this:
I was struck by the painter’s [Claude Monet] vigour, fortitude, ambition and (if I can declare some personal interest) sheer narrative traction. Monet in those years, his 70s and 80s, was very much an old man in a hurry, emerging from self-imposed retirement on the eve of the first world war to create some of the most daringly experimental pigmentary effects he had ever attempted. He offers proof that an eightysomething can propel a narrative without an author having to resort to wistful recollections of a vanished prime.
Interesting point. Certainly few of the characters in my little selection focus on their vanished primes. Several think about the past, but not in terms of their so-called prime. For some, like those older women books, there’s a need to resolve/atone for/amend the past, while for others there’s a more philosophical pondering about the meaning of the past, of home, of life. Unlike my older women books list, few if any of these older men books explore illness (like dementia and cancer).
Like that previous list too, but in reverse, most of the authors writing about old men are men – which is not surprising. I’m wondering whether any of our current male literary fiction authors who are now 60 plus, are writing about the topic? Like David Malouf (who has already done Ransom), Rodney Hall, Peter Goldsworthy, to name just a few.
And now, of course my question! Can you add some books to the list – Aussie if you’re Aussie, or your own nationality if you’re not?