The Midlife Mind: Literature and the Art of Ageing by Ben Hutchinson - review by Salley Vickers

Salley Vickers

It Gets Better with Age

The Midlife Mind: Literature and the Art of Ageing


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Ben Hutchinson, a mere forty-three, considers that he has reached middle age. In this I suggest he is being a little doomy, but no more so, perhaps, than one of the authors to whom he turns for wisdom and philosophical support, Michel de Montaigne, who retired from political and social life at the ripe old age of thirty-eight to his ‘citadel’ in the Dordogne to compose his meditative essays.

Hutchinson, while not quite modelling himself on Montaigne, has written a book, somewhat in the famous essayist’s style, which seeks both to chart his own experience of ageing and to explore how the literary loves and allies he has accumulated during his life can illuminate and give comfort in that process. In this sense the book is part autobiography, part confessional and part bibliotherapy, something that, as a former psychotherapist and now a novelist, I can only applaud. (In my professional life as a therapist I drew far more on works of literature for psychological understanding than I ever did on psychological theory.)

He kicks off with a brief section on the psychology of ageing and the so-called ‘midlife crisis’. If I had been his editor, I would have suggested jettisoning this as it is by far the least engaging part of the book and uncharacteristic in its theorising (though to be fair,

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