Books with Old Folks (by Brian Francis)

Brian Francis (Photo credit: Paula Wilson)

"I’ve never met a senior citizen I didn’t like. Cranky, kind, loud-mouthed, timid, I don’t really care. They’re always fascinating to me. In my new book, Natural Order, I’ve indulged my love of seniors with a host of elderly characters. Here are some other CanLit novels that also feature old folks."

BRIAN FRANCIS' first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist. He has worked as a freelance writer for a variety of magazines and newspapers. In 2000, Francis received the Writers' Union of Canada's Emerging Author Award. He lives in Toronto.

Exit Lines by Joan Barfoot

"Honest to God, we’re just old, we’re not morons.”

Barfoot’s 2008 novel was many things: funny, sad, honest and pointed. Set in a retirement lodge, Exit Lines centres around four residents who find an ability to bond with one another in surroundings that would challenge the best of us. In spite of that (or because of it), they discover the preciousness of their own lives.

Book Cover The Stone Diaries

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

“I am not at peace.”

Shields’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel turns the convention of autobiography on its head. Lead character Daisy Goodwill doesn’t attempt to describe herself in own terms, but through the observations and opinions of the people that surround her. It’s heartbreaking, hilarious and extremely moving.

Book Cover The Stone Angel

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

“And then—“

Oh, Hagar Shipley, with your beetle-flecked hair, wilderness pride and flatulence, you left a mighty shadow in the literary landscape. It’s hard to think of an elderly protagonist and not have Hagar immediately come to mind. Laurence’s portrait of a woman in the final days of her life was as tough—and complex—as the character herself.

Essex County Book Cover

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

“You know, I always say, there are only two ways to be completely alone in this world…lost in a crowd…or in total isolation.”

I was first introduced to this book when I was the resident blogger for Canada Reads 2011. Lemire’s story has a way of getting under your skin. Lou LeBeuf, an elderly man dipping into dementia and the past, draws the reader into his world of guilt and brotherly betrayal. Lemire’s illustrations illuminate loneliness in ways that words can’t.

Book Cover The Innocent Traveller

The Innocent Traveller by Ethel Wilson

“Life is a party and she is at the party.”

First published in 1949 when Wilson was 62 years old, The Innocent Traveller recounts the life of Topaz Edgeworth from childhood to her death at the age of 100. Throughout a life that spans from Victorian England to Canada in the years following the Second World War, Topaz charms us while calling to mind all those odd elderly relatives we were forced to visit as kids. Pass the mint melt-a-ways.

Book cover Remembering the Bones

Remembering the Bones by Frances Itani

“Women my age are invisible.”

There’s the hardship of being old. Then there’s the hardship of being old and driving your car off the road while on your way to visit your idol Queen Elizabeth and spending your final days lying on the ground waiting for help. Sheesh. And you thought you had a bad day. But that’s just what happens to Georgina Danforth Whitely, an 80-year-old who occupies her post-accident time examining the worth of her life. Be warned. Nothing prepares you for Itani’s gut wrenching ending.

Book Cover The Suspect

The Suspect by L.R. Wright

“There was a thundering in his eighty-year-old heart, a feebleness in his antiquated knees.”

I think an alternate title for this book could’ve been You’re Never Too Old to Murder Someone. Published in 1986, The Suspect became the first Canadian novel to win an Edgar award. Awash with death, romance, family secrets and homicidal seniors, it’s easy to see why this book was—and still is—a hit with fans that love a good mystery.

September 4, 2011
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