At twenty-nine, I seem to have passed a threshold, and suddenly find myself regularly reading about grown-up protagonists who are in fact younger than me. This is disconcerting; as a life long bookworm, many of my role models are fictional and books, both novels and nonfiction, have helped shape my very character. What to do when all of these potential role models are suddenly younger than yourself? After all, every year I get older, while the books around me stay static.
I remember turning twenty-two, realising I was now older than both Emma and Lizzie, who I met for the first time when I was thirteen, and feeling such despair. They’d managed to sort their lives out by now, whereas I seemed to be getting older and feeling more muddled than ever. Fortunately, these days I have a more relaxed view, having let go of my teenage self’s plans for my twenties, and when I turned twenty-eight and became officially older than all of Jane Austen’s heroines, I took it in stride. And yet, lately I’ve been noticing, so many of the heroes and heroines of fiction, looking to find themselves, seem to have their crises finished and endings achieved before their thirtieth birthday. I’m not sure how I feel about this; when I was fifteen, sure, thirty sounded old. At the time, I imagined I’d have everything essentially sorted by then, and simply be working to improve it; to switch to metaphor, I was sure I’d have all of the clay assembled and basic shape roughed out and spend my thirties adding the fine details and embellishments to the vase of my life. This is certainly not the case, and I suspect when I find myself on the threshold of my forties and fifties and sixties, I will still not be quite formed, not yet ready to place in the kiln.
Of course, books have to end somewhere, and the traditional story arc is so terribly satisfying for a reason. But where are the stories of the thirty-something year olds? We’re too young for midlife crises but too old for young adult ‘leaving the nest’ type plots. Am I just not reading the correct books? I can already find myself undergoing a bit of a transformation, reminding myself that I can certainly find role models who are younger than me. And yet…I’ve always found it more natural to have role models older than myself. I’m sure such books exist; I’ll just have to start drawing up lists. I seem to mention Bujold in every post lately, but I will just say that one of the aspects of the Vorkosigan Saga I love best is that it covers 12+ years in the main characters’ lives and really shows them growing from eighteen-year-olds to forty-year-olds. The Miles from the early books is not like the Miles from the later books, and the transformation feels utterly organic, and deeply comforting, since this is a transformation we all undergo. All of my life, books have lead the way, and I don’t want to lose that now.
Has anyone else noticed this? Have any thoughts you care to share? Or books to recommend of course! Luckily for me, Niccolo, the protagonist of Dorothy Dunnett’s second historical series, just turned thirty in The Unicorn Hunt, which means I have at least three books to watch someone older than myself try to navigate life. Although luckily, mine has far fewer challenges, and my friends and family support me instead of secretly worrying I’m evil. Poor Nicholas.