7 Books to Remind You That Life Goes On for Women After 70

If you love ‘Grace and Frankie,’ or if you just dream of being a feisty old lady, try out these books with senior protagonists

Photo by Alex Harvey
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Netflix’s Grace and Frankie just dropped its fourth season, which means a whole lot of people are binge watching the adventures of two 70-something friends (and their gay ex-husbands). Jane Fonda’s Grace and Lily Tomlin’s Frankie are decades older than most of the women we see in leading television roles, but they easily carry the show—and though they’re frank and humorous about the challenges of aging, they’re never the butt of the joke.

It’s rare to see senior women on TV at all, let alone dating, doing drugs, running a business, and having fun with their friends. If you’re hungry for more content like Grace and Frankie, you may be out of luck on the small screen—but we’ve rounded up seven novels whose over-70 protagonists do more than just reminisce and wait to die. If you are, know, or just want to become a fierce old lady, start here.

The Summer Book, Tove Jansson

Jansson showed her keen understanding of the complex and sometimes dark inner worlds of children in her beloved Moomintroll series. In The Summer Book, she also explores the emotions and experience of adult caregivers—specifically, an elderly woman looking after her six-year-old granddaughter on a small Finnish island. Their story is told in a series of luminous vignettes that highlight the pair’s strong personalities, warm relationship, and simple pleasures.

Florence Gordon, Brian Morton

The eponymous protagonist of Morton’s novel may be 75, but she has no interest in slowing—or calming—down. Lifelong feminist Florence is irreverent, accomplished, sometimes ferocious, and committed to living an independent life, but must still reckon with the way her fate (and feelings) are bound up with her family’s.

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Former English professor Dr. Morayo Da Silva, going on 75 years old, spends some of this novel reflecting on her past in Nigeria—but the rest of it navigating her present as she lives alone in San Francisco, dealing with the challenges of an aging body and the benefits of a clear memory and determined mind. Deeply engaged with the world and community around her, Morayo tells her own story but is joined by some of the people who have touched her life (and vice versa).

Two Old Women, Velma Wallis

This novel, based on a legend from the indigenous Gwich’in people of Alaska, pits two elderly women against conditions that would test even the young and healthy. Sa’ (75) and Ch’idzigyaak (80) are abandoned by their tribe in the treacherous winter tundra. Rather than despair over this betrayal, the two find ways to hunt, cook, shelter, travel, and stay warm, and wind up as symbols of perseverance—and the importance of the elderly—to the tribe members who tried to leave them behind.

Arsenic and Old Lace, Joseph Kesselring

Listen, for some of us an active old age means travel and yoga, and for others it means poisoning people in your parlor. The important thing is keeping busy. In this classic play (later a classic movie), the elderly Brewster sisters turn out to have a cellar full of corpses—but, you know, in a funny way.

An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine

Beirut native Aaliya Sobhi is 72, estranged from her husband, and seemingly invisible to her family—but she has a rich inner life, thanks to her passion for translating literature. The novel is more interior monologue than plot, covering Aaliya’s memories of her youth in wartime Beirut but also her feverish, secretive, and very much still vital love of words.

The Hearing Trumpet, Leonora Carrington

At 92, Marian Leatherby is unable to resist being committed to an institution by her family (though she can hear them plotting, thanks to the gift of an ornate ear trumpet). But her life is far from constrained, as the institution turns out to be a surreal and somewhat sinister wonderland. This strange and fantastic novel shows that otherworldly adventures are not limited to the young.

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