Title: The Time of Our Lives – Growing Older Well
Author: Robert Dessaix
Publisher: Brio, 2020
Robert Dessaix is an Australian writer and life commentator. He is best-known for the autobiography A Mother’s Disgrace and the novel Night Letters. His writing is informed by a life of travel, learning, and deep, diverse friendships with “interesting” people.
This is an intimate insight, almost a monologue, into Dessaix’s personal tussle with the finite nature of life and its inevitable end. His own advancing years, brushes with death and the imminent demise of Rita, his partner’s mother, focuses the conversation (largely one-way) on life and what it means to live a meaningful life.
It is set largely in Java, and Rita’s room in the nursing home. Rita is frequently used as a springboard into the unknown and to contrast the ideas he is trying to draw out.
Little nuances and details add colour and dimension, turning the ramblings of an old man into a story. The use of Javanese village life and inclusion of references to friends in cleverly crafted little side snippets create a multi-layered, thoughtful and interesting reading experience.
There is good advice in here for the young, though I fear it would be lost on many of them.
Dying features heavily; the idea that we inevitably reach a point of finality drives a lot of Dessaix’s thinking. To grow old well, he suggests, you need to be satisfied you have lived well. Consequently, he includes a lot of discussion on living. Of course, Dessaix’s idea of living well, or anybody else’s for that matter, may differ to yours.
There is a memorable little analogy that suggests you do not want your life to be like the traveller who finds the best coffee shop, restaurants, and places to go on their last day at a location they will never return to.
I must confess I was expecting an epiphany or two when I set out to read this book. However, I was disappointed: two out of three of Dessaix’s major life conclusions I had already reached, despite not having lived an exotic life such as Dessaix’s. For other conclusions … you will just have to read the book for yourself, which I heartily recommend.
Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, December 2020
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group