I think I have a fairly balanced opinion of myself. I’m a middle-aged, midlist author who was able to start writing full-time only because I surrendered my so-called best decades to hard work in a day job. I don’t think I’m having a crisis, which I guess is a good sign.
But a number of new books are out on the subject of ageing and its shifting perimeters, in which it’s generally agreed that the concept of ‘the male midlife Crisis’ was manufactured as a sales tool, and that before the 20th century age was not an essential ingredient of one’s identity. People were classified according to “marker events”: marriage, parenthood and so on.
Now demographics and marketing have subdivided lives into lots of little fear packages, until we end up with a situation where teenaged girls are undergoing liposuction.
As Marcus Berkmann, one of the authors, points out, “one of the most tangible symptoms of middle age is the sensation that you’re being cast adrift from mainstream culture.” Any man over forty who has tried to buy decent casual clothes or find entertainment aimed at him knows that urbanites are particularly susceptible to living in a hysterical, infantilised culture. There’s an article on the subject in the Independent here.
Lately the bowler hat and the flat cap have been making a comeback on the streets of London, as if we now want to decide our own social groups. The question arises as I try to ascertain who my next book is really aimed at. Go too young and you risk dad-dancing in front of your laughing juniors, too stuffy and you lose your core readership. I’ve set this week aside for attempting to learn to walk this particular tightrope. All thoughts on the New Ages of Man (and Woman) to the usual spot…
‘A Shed of One’s Own – Midlife Without the Crisis’ is by Marcus Berkmann (Little, Brown, £12.99); ‘In Our Prime’, by Patricia Cohen (Scribner, £16); ‘Middle Age: A Natural History’, by David Bainbridge, will be published by Portobello Books on 8 March, £14.99