In the Sunday Ottawa Citizen, I read with great interest about Baroness James, much better known to her legions of fans as P.D. James. She has turned 90 this year, and is mindful of her age and is aware of possible future mental decline, both in her life and more especially in her work. P.D. cited Agatha Christie as a caution, saying that Dame Agatha kept writing and publishing too long, beyond when her writing was up to her earlier standards, and feels this ultimately diminished her mystery writing reputation.
Three years ago, when P.D. published her latest Dalgleish book, which was full of her trademark intricate plots and amazing detail, she mentioned then the possibility that it might very well be her last, and that it was not by accident that Detective Adam Dalgleish seemed to be in valedictory mode.
Most recently, a new and different P.D. James book has been released – Death Comes to Pemberley. This is quite a departure for her, as it is a continuation of the story begun by Jane Austen as Pride and Prejudice. All the old familiar Austen characters are back, aged by several years and married with children, and of course murder comes to pay a social call.
P.D. James is apparently quite a Jane Austen aficionado, and her love and knowledge of all things Austen is one of her many and varied interests, for which she has a great passion.
How wonderful that at the age of ninety someone can reinvent themselves. We are always told that to live a long and interesting life with all of our faculties intact, one of the provisos is to exercise both brain and body, stretching both to keep them fit and useful.
My mum was a great proponent of that very thing. She passed away this autumn in her ninetieth year, still active in her residence’s yoga sessions, sit-and-fit classes and practicing on the putting green. She also kept brainfully fit with daily
crosswords, 2 book club memberships, prayer groups and seminars at her church, and daily pouring over the Montreal Gazette for up-to-date politics, hockey scores, So You Think You Can Dance updates, the TSE index, the golf leader board, who would be going home on American Idol, and theatre and concert reviews. All of these details were discussed at the morning coffee group following fitness class, and a smarter, brighter more plugged-in group of ladies you would never meet. I learned a lot from my mum and her friends.
P.D. James said in an interview that she was monitoring herself, watching for signs of slipping from her high standards of plot details and writing edge. I admire that attitude, and I think that we could all learn by the fine examples of older ladies like my mum and P.D. James. Let us all try to move gracefully through life, with our eyes wide and our ears tuned in, taking in all of the wonderful range of what life has to offer us as brain food. Who knows, perhaps we can all reinvent ourselves when we reach 90 too. But maybe we should have someone else do the monitoring.
Catherine Lee (Cathy) is a college textbook buyer in Ottawa, has been a bookseller and book buyer by trade for most of her life, and is a member of 2 book clubs. She became a book lover on her parents’ knees at story time & by flashlight under the bed sheets. One of her greatest pleasures is sharing great books with friends, of course while sipping wine.