The unfashionable face of old age

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It’s several years since I first read this novel. I loved it then for its subtlety, perception and gentle humour. Those same qualities come across to me now, but as I’m so much older myself, the story of a group of lonely and ill-assorted old people facing decrepitude and death makes more uncomfortable reading. It’s tragic that Elizabeth Taylor was so undervalued in her own time, and is now almost forgotten in a world that is ever more influenced by youth, genres and trends.



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Chicks, Biddies and Breaking Boundaries

I’ve never been much good at fitting into boxes. Just look at my biography and you’ll see what I mean. Academic qualifications, zany life-style choices. ‘What sort of woman is this?’ you might wonder.

My writing meets with much the same response. A fellow student on the MA once said, ‘I can equally imagine Ruth’s work as a fledgling best seller, or put forward for the Booker Prize.’ Now I don’t claim she meant that I’m a genius waiting to be discovered, simply that my writing style doesn’t fit easily into one genre.

‘It’s part women’s fiction, part literary fiction,’ one of my tutors complained. ‘You have to make up your mind which it’s to be.’ Agents and consultants agree. ‘The problem is,’ they say, ‘it’s hard to market a book that blends genres.’

I’m sure they’re right. They know far more about the bookselling business than I do. But I still find it difficult to believe that there aren’t readers out there who have the intellect to enjoy novels with depth, as well as the experience to identify with what might seem ‘romantic and silly’, to quote one Amazon reviewer.

And yet . . . read on to see where the nub lies.

‘I had to persist with this book, but my persistence was richly rewarded. I initially found it romantic and silly, and I was irritated that men seemed to be so poorly understood and represented. However ………. I gradually realised I had been cleverly drawn in. I became sympathetic to this group of very imperfect characters, recognising in them my own silly and vulnerable humanity. I enjoyed the way events surprised me and kept me wondering where we were going. And why. I didn’t want to finish the book and felt bereft when I did. I hope Ruth Larrea will continue with this story. I think this belongs to an important and evolving genre about the life, loves and opportunities for people of ‘the third age’. It left me feeling younger and more hopeful. Thank you Ruth.’

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that this particular reader is a man. As far as I know, the only man — so far — to read it. Don’t men make mistakes in love, too?

So what about his idea that this might belong to a new genre – dealing with ‘the life, loves and opportunities for’ us oldies? After all, plenty of us enjoy reading. As one survey claims, 70% of Kindle owners are over 40. (https://www.cnet.com/news).

Some time ago I coined a possible term for this new genre. One that reviews the silly and romantic mistakes of youth with the wisdom of old age . . . .

Biddy Lit.

Disclaimer: in no way are my lovely friends in the photos related to the silly, imperfect characters in my novel! I simply include them to illustrate the value of long-lasting friendships which Rosie eventually discovers.


Dolor y Gloria

A fascinating interview on TVE this week with Pedro Almodovar about his latest film, Dolor y Gloria, thought to be his most autobiographical yet.

The story draws on events from his formative years.

‘I had to look into the darkest part of myself,’ he said.

‘Although it starts from myself, as I was writing, it transformed into fiction.’

Yes! That’s what I love in novels, too. Stories that grow out of the writer’s experience of life, yet evolve their own reality.

You can keep all your fantasies and thrillers with their cleverly contrived plots. What move me most are stories that sink their roots deep into real-life events, yet stretch their branches towards the sky.

Elena Ferrante? Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Tim Winton?

In my own small way I, too, love to weave fact and fiction in my writing, and find it uniquely fulfilling.

As Almodovar says, ‘Writing is the only therapy to forget the unforgettable.’

Pain and glory, indeed.

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