Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Late-Flowering Art

An interesting piece by Mark Lawson in today's Guardian about the work of artists who are well into what we've traditionally thought of as old age.  Lawson discusses performers such as Leonard Cohen and Neil Diamond, who have been gracing the festival stages around the UK this summer.  But he devotes the majority of the article to new novels from PD James and Stanley Middleton, both well into their ninth decade. 

Baroness James's new novel will no doubt receive plenty of deserved coverage, but it's nice to see Middleton getting some attention for once.  I don't think that Stanley Middleton has ever been a fashionable writer, and his determinedly low-key style is perhaps an acquired taste.  But once you acquire it, as I did many years ago, it's highly addictive.  Lawson says of Middleton's recent work: 

'...His very late novels find him worrying away at the literary and social values that have informed his work. There is also the feeling of absolutely authentic reportage of the experience of being old in a culture biased towards youth: the experiences of illness, bereavement, pensions and insurance bureaucracy. When, in a recent novel, Middleton featured a character with Alzheimer's, there was a moving sense of a report being sent back from a massacre by one of the few to escape.'

That's accurate enough, but it doesn't convey the seductive nature of Middleton's prose style or the fact that - despite the conscious avoidance of anything that might be described as melodramatic - his best books are as tense as any thriller. 


1. &mpersand said...


This is a fascinating topic and one which is here to stay, I think (with rapidly ageing populations in the western world). I think age is a different issue for a writer than for a performer, as a writer can retain (a degree) of anonymity. And I think it's a double-edged sword - yes, our society tends to worship youth, but age can have a liberating, "devil-may-care" effect (I'm thinking of Wendy Cope's poem "Warning").

&... xxx

2. Michael Walters said...

Thanks, Amy...some very interesting points. I do think that our society continues to undervalue the experience and wisdom (not to mention, as you say, the liberation) that comes with age. But, as the population ages, perhaps that will begin to change...

3. &mpersand said...

Of course, it's not Wendy Cope I'm thinking of, but Jenny Joseph - oops. It must be my age!

&... xxx

4. Michael Walters said...

Yes, of course. I'm planning to adopt that poem, or a male equivalent, as a manifesto in due course...

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