The Gift of Years: Two Books on Growing Old

Ageing has its despairs, yet without it, our lives lose their shape. Here are two books on this unfashionable but necessary subject. The first (‘Tuck Everlasting’) is a classic children’s novel which has been adapted into two feature films. The second (‘Coming of Age’) is a masterful survey of ageing across time and cultures by one of the greatest female intellectuals of the 20th century.

TUCK EVERLASTING’ (1975) by Natalie Babitt

A timeless life without growth or change would be drearier than the day is long. That’s the profound truth that illuminates this extraordinary fable by American author and illustrator of children’s books, Natalie Babbitt (1932 – 2016)

The story of Tuck Everlasting centres on a young girl named Winnie who finds herself transported into a great adventure when she discovered a potion more powerful than time. Winnie meets Angus Tuck, whose family is blessed (or cursed) with eternal life. “Living’s heavy work,” Angus tells Winnie, “but off to one side, the way we are, it’s useless, too. It don’t make sense. If I knowed how to climb back on the wheel, I’d do it in a minute. You can’t have living without dying.” As Winnie wrestles with the implications of this dilemma, the reader is led to Babbitt’s alluring voice through a plot filled with action – there’s kidnapping, a murder, and a jailbreak. And it ends in an unexpected and deeply moving place.

This enchanting novel has enough wit, suspense, imagination and philosophy, to entertain young readers, and educate mature ones. It is a beautiful, luminous, and wise tale conjured by a master storyteller.


THE COMING OF AGE’ (1970) By Simone de Beauvoir

The philosopher Simone de Beauvoir in the late Forties CREDIT: SIPA/REX

Simone de Beauvoir (19088 – 1986) was an intellect of the first rank, a versatile woman of letters, a writer of distinction and a major figure in 20th century European culture. She possess a prodigious ability to synthesize matter and meaning across disciplines in ways that prove revelatory and profound. If Jean-Paul Satre was the king of existentialism that dominated French intellectual debate in the decades after World War II, Beauvoir was the queen.

One of de Beauvoir’s most famous books is the The Second Sex (1949), an exhaustive and intimate scrutiny of the physical, social, and existential experience of women in the West, and a groundbreaking work of humanism too. Coming of Age (1970) is another path-breaking work, an impassioned book that spans a thousand years and a broad swathe of nations and cultures. Within its pages, Beauvoir assets that “old age is an island surrounded by death.” The inhabitants of that island are left to their own devices, ignored by the people in the mainland, distanced from the community and separate from it by policy and popular thought. “Until the moment is upon us,” she writes, “old age is something that only affects other people.”

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