Book clinic: which authors can help me come to terms with getting older?

Novelist Deborah Moggach recommends writers who confront the passing of the years, from John Updike to Virginia Ironside

Q: There are many books about young adulthood, but far fewer about ageing. I am searching for stories that can help me reflect on the state of my body and mind.
Inna, aged 38, Berlin

A: Deborah Moggach, author and screenwriter, writes:
Your question made me think about novels and how richly they can explore ageing, dealing as they do with memories and the past, the interior world that grows more and more dense, the older one gets, although you don’t sound old at all. Plenty of novelists have reflected on this as they themselves grow old. Philip Roth and John Updike spring to mind, and in fact I’d recommend Updike’s Rabbit series, taking us, as it does, through a man’s life into his last years (though it’s rather a shock to find the hero banging on about being ancient when he’s only 65).

Another book I’d recommend is my favourite novel of all time, Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives Tale. This, too, leads us through the years, from the childhood of our heroines Sophia and Constance right up to their old age, a journey that begins and ends in the Potteries. Then there’s Paul Scott’s peerless Staying On, about an elderly couple stubbornly remaining in India, long after the Raj, simply because they have nowhere else to go.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”: we all know the famous opening line of LP Hartley’s The Go-Between. When all we have are our memories, this wonderful novel explores a traumatic event, seen from the viewpoint of great age, and is suffused with the elegiac glow of a long-lost summer. It’s one of the few novels that was made into an equally successful film.

For nonfiction, there’s the invigorating Diana Athill, whose books give hope to us all, and the equally fabulous Nora Ephron, whose I Remember Nothing hilariously explores how memories can in fact entirely disintegrate. Simon Gray’s Coda, his diaries about the intemperate furies and frustrations of old age, will also reduce you to helpless laughter.

Finally, Virginia Ironside has written some very funny and salty reflections on ageing in several books, No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub; No Thanks! I’m Quite Happy Standing and No! I Don’t Need Reading Glasses. The titles say it all. Happy reading – with or without glasses.

Deborah Moggach’s new novel, The Carer, is out on 8 July (Tinder, £16.99). Submit your question below or email


Deborah Moggach

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Book clinic: which current authors produce the most magical prose?
The supernatural, witchcraft or sex can be spellbinding, while others conjure gold from the everyday human struggle

Amanda Craig

28, Apr, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which male authors excel at writing female characters?
From Tolstoy to John Banville, our expert suggests the men who can write from a woman’s perspective

Lara Feigel

14, Apr, 2018 @3:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: what can I read after work instead of watching TV?
From Jane Austen to medical memoirs, books that will help leave thoughts of the office behind

Hannah Beckerman

08, Feb, 2020 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which novels will help me cope with life’s hard knocks?
Diana Athill, Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Strout all provide wisdom and humour in times of need

Julie Myerson

09, Mar, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: can you suggest funny reads from female authors?
From witty novels to comedians in print, Viv Groskop recommends ladies who’ll make you laugh

Viv Groskop

28, Dec, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which authors can be likened to Julian Barnes?
Comparisons to the Man Booker prize-winner are tricky, but our expert suggests an excellent starting point

Rachel Cooke

01, Sep, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: do editors often have to cut authors down to size?
Overwriting is a common problem among beginners, but it happens to the best of them – ask a professional editor

Richard Beswick

21, Apr, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which books will help to heal a broken heart?
Out of love with romance? Our expert suggests novels to analyse the processes of love, regain perspective and make you laugh

Lisa Appignanesi

07, Jul, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which books can help me weather my parents’ divorce?
A selection of books to offer guidance and comfort through painful times

Francesca Segal

24, Nov, 2018 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: excellent shorter novels
Great literature isn’t all weighty tomes, as this selection from novelist Ayòbámi Adébáyò proves

Ayòbámi Adébáyò

18, Jan, 2020 @6:00 PM