In Praise of Older Women by Stephen Vizinczey

This book seems to have acquired a slightly louche reputation, probably because the title seems to be an implied counterassertion to the prevailing wisdom, that sexual allure fades with age. There is also the 1978 film of the same title, which I seem to remember from childhood was seen as a ‘sexy’ movie when it appeared.

The book is amazing in an least one respect – English is the Hungarian author’s second language. That puts him up there with Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov, other brilliant writers of English who learned the language. Together, they can give hope to all of us who labour in the foothills of language learning, as I do.

The book is about sex but only a bit and not in any particularly descriptive, porn-y sort of way. The real subject of the book is love: how it comes, and how it goes, and what it means in a sexual relationship.

The novel is partly autobiographical, as the narrator is a Hungarian, whose life is terribly disrupted by the Nazi invasion and who moves abroad, just as Vizinczey did. It is episodic, describing his relationships with (mostly) older women, as he grows to adulthood and is driven by circumstance to different jobs and places.

I can see how some would find the book a bit patronising towards women, even misogynistic, perhaps. But that is because the writer is building the narrator’s character for us and one should not confuse the two personalities. I actually think the book celebrates women and could only have been written by a man who loves them.

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