Falcus, Sarah (2012) Unsettling ageing in three novels by Pat Barker. Ageing and Society, 32 (8). pp. 1382-1398. ISSN 0144-686X

Within the growing body of interdisciplinary work on ageing, more attention is now
paid to literary engagement with and representations of ageing, often in the form of
literary gerontology. This field locates literature as part of the cultural discourses
around ageing in our society. Pat Barker’s work, already the subject of some gerontological
attention, is important here, because her texts offer detailed representations
of the ageing subject, and engage with the often disturbing challenges that ageing
presents to self and social identity. This paper considers three of Pat Barker’s novels –
Another World (), Liza’s England (/), and Union Street () – within
one of the central debates in ageing studies: how far we are aged by culture and where
culture might meet the material. In these novels, ageing characters are clearly at the
mercy of cultural constructions of age; nevertheless, the texts also insist on the
centrality of the body, forcefully reminding us of the limits of cultural ageing. This
paper argues that these novels explore the interplay between cultural and corporeal
ageing, forcing the reader to acknowledge the complexities of, and unsettle any easy
assumptions about, ageing subjectivity. In the process, this suggests that what fiction
can offer to gerontology is, at least in part, an exploration of the ineluctability of
‘contradictions’ when it comes to ageing.

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