I’m just back from my native land, where I laid my 90 year-old stepfather to rest. He had spent the final month of his life in a residential home that specializes in the care of the dementia from which he had come to suffer. It was an excellent place – The Hollies, in Southborough, England – where the staff treated him and every other resident with dignity, and showed that they cared for them and about them all.
The experience of finding the place, and then visiting it, got me thinking, among other things, about the way the very old are treated in literature, on those few occasions they are allowed across its hallowed portals. All too often, it seems to me, they are treated with condescension and sentimentality. Rarely do you find an attempt to get inside their heads, particularly if they are suffering from dementia. That’s hardly surprising, perhaps, since people with dementia are not in a position to explain themselves clearly, let alone write about their experience and feelings. This opacity is touched upon in a rare acknowledgement of it in a book I read recently: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, so kudos to him, and even more to Delinda McCann for a more thorough treatment in Power and Circumstance. As an author, I’m as guilty as anyone else: the only really old person in my writing is the retired spook Franco Tira in Murder by Suicide, but he is a negative character, and no more demented than he had been in his prime.
To counterbalance this, I’m thinking of writing a tale about a very old person with superpowers, ones that will be put to no good use. That way I can satirise our attitudes both towards the “paranormal” and towards old age. I shan’t give the powers to Franco Tira, for he is too bad to begin with, but I might give them to a fellow inmate in the hospice, perhaps someone whom the overbearing Franco tries to bully, only to get his come-uppance. I’d welcome suggestions for superpowers with which to endow “Superoldie” and how he might deploy them in slightly mean ways that we can nevertheless sympathise with. Personally, now that I’m old enough to get taken advantage of by shop-keepers and market stall-holders, I’d like the power to make the coins or notes I hand over to them burn the fingers of the ones who short-change me. Is that too mean?
Bryan Murphy is a British writer who lives in Italy. He is perhaps best known for his Sean Linehan series [http://www.free-ebooks.net/search/bryan+murphy] which looks at the topical issue of corruption in international sport, as well as racism, redemption and how to survive being kidnapped.