I tend to reading books in streaks. I’ll finish one that I enjoy, and immediately go looking for something similar for as long as I can until I run out of ideas (or get so tired of it the joy is gone, although that’s not usually the case). My most recent has been a string of older female character studies, which is oddly specific I know, especially when you consider that I picked up all three of these books for reasons completely apart from their form as such.
The first one I read was An Unnecessary Woman, which I discovered on the list of finalists for the National Book Award. It mostly takes place in the thoughts and memories of a seventy-two-year-old woman in Beirut. The details of life past and present in Beirut were rich, but voice of this woman is richer.
The same list of NBA finalists included Lila by Marilynne Robinson, the third of her novels set in the small town of Gilead, Iowa in the mid-twentieth century. These books probably rank as my second-favorite “series”, surpassed only by Wendell Berry’s Port William novels. (Curiously, both take a similar approach in that each book shares the same cast of characters but each is from the perspective of a different member and they are not sequential.) This was one of those books that I had to try to ration out over as many days as possible, but I just couldn’t help myself. I consumed it. Once again, this novel is very much about Lila, a woman who spends much of her life as a transient worker before marrying the much older Reverend Ames and settling down in Gilead.
After those two, I picked up Colm Toibin’s latest, Nora Webster. This time the main character is a middle-aged and recently widowed woman in 1960s Ireland. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for most stories in that setting, but this one was more than cultural nostalgia. It was as soon as I got utterly sucked into Nora’s head that I realized I was going to have to go looking for more.
Unfortunately, I don’t have anything else in the queue and “older female character study” isn’t exactly a helpful search term. So the hunt is on… Any suggestions?