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Mischievous, Warm, Provocative: Review of The Age of Discretion by Virginia Duigan

March 12, 2019

Vivien and Geoff are lying in bed when it happens. It’s a morning like any other, another night has passed without any intimacy, and Vivien is frustrated, again, at her husband. They’re in the second year of their sex drought, and simple gestures of affection from Geoff have near-departed, too. Vivien is at her wit’s end.

As happened the other times she broached the subject, Vivien expects Geoff to be non-committal or dismissive. Up until this point, he’s refused to properly acknowledge their lack of intimacy, let alone regard it as a serious problem, but this morning, it transpires, will be devastatingly, cataclysmically different. For when Vivien brings up the topic, her husband turns to her and utters a single, unforgivable sentence: ‘Men are hard-wired to not find older women attractive.’

Vivien is outraged. Geoff is hardly a spring chicken or a golden-haired Adonis himself: they’ve been married 32 years, and he is 69 to her 67. Not only that, Vivien works hard to keep herself looking good. Her jeans may be old, but she can still fit into them, she rides her bike to the shops, and she visits the gym two or three times a week for cardio and weight-training exercises. All this was done with Geoff in mind – and now he has the gall to say he no longer finds her attractive? Huh!

For a few hours afterwards, Vivien doesn’t quite know what to do. Geoff’s words inhabit her body like some malevolent growth, and as she goes about her day, she feels strangers can see them emblazoned in enormous letters on her forehead. But after consulting with her closest friend, Jules, a larger-than-life opera singer, Vivien begins to feel better once she realises she needs to take drastic, radical action. Although Geoff may think otherwise, Vivien doesn’t feel over the hill at all, and quickly enlists the services of The Discretion Agency, an introduction service helmed by the enigmatic Martin Glover.

Under the watchful eyes of Martin and Jules, Vivien begins to plan her return to the dating scene nearly thirty-five years after she left it, and although she’s still stinging from Geoff’s rejection and feeling more than a little hesitant about her new plan, she decides to throw caution to the wind, and embarks on a series of wildly unpredictable dates – some deeply romantic, some sizzlingly sexy, and some hilariously awful. As Vivien gets her groove back, she revels in the experience of feeling wanted once again and her life begins to change – to change, in fact, in the very best way possible…

Penned by prolific Australian journalist, editor and scriptwriter Virginia Duigan, The Age of Discretion is a charming, witty and wise new novel. Following Vivien as she gamely re-enters the dating world at 67, the book is jam-packed with clever dialogue, chuckle-worthy moments, and delightfully well-rounded characters. Vivien especially, simply sparkles. Energetic and intelligent, with an endearing impulsive streak, it’s a pleasure watching her blossom over the course of the story, and her sardonic opera singer friend Jules, who’s facing some not insignificant life challenges of her own, is intriguingly multifaceted, too, with her bravado masking a vulnerability compellingly depicted by Duigan.

Duigan explores sexism and ageing with a deft hand in this novel, and as an older woman attempting to navigate a society no longer designed for her, Vivien’s experiences often pack a real emotional punch. The novel skewers the mixed messages older women are bombarded with by the media: at one point, Vivien wryly observes that she is ‘either past her sexual prime, or well past it, or conceivably at it, depending on which magazine you read.’

In exploring these themes, The Age of Discretion also powerfully challenges the idea that women lose their desirability and even their worth as they age. Watching Vivien defiantly contradict this notion through a series of very sexy dating escapades is both delightful and empowering: as she remarks at the beginning of the novel, ‘In Geoff’s eyes, I am guilty of the offence of being an older woman. But I’m a free agent. The rot has not set in… I’m not parked in the departure lounge, or anywhere near it.’

Mischievous, warm, provocative and profoundly relatable – with a fabulous twist that’ll make you gasp out loud – The Age of Discretion is a tale of reinvention and second chances that proves living is not just for the young. If you love big-hearted stories like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or even the hit television show Grace and Frankie, you’ll adore this book.

About the author 

Virginia Duigan wrote the screenplay of the 1998 movie The Leading Man, starring Jon Bon Jovi, Thandie Newton and Barry Humphries. Before becoming a novelist, Duigan worked as a journalist, broadcaster, editor and TV scriptwriter. She was a freelance contributor to The Bulletin, The Age, The Australian, The Financial Review, Cinema Papers, and in London to The Observer and The Times. She was Literary Editor of The National Times, and a theatre, book, film and restaurant reviewer. She has written three novels: The Precipice, Days Like These and The Biographer. Born in Cambridge she now lives in both Sydney and London with her husband, film director Bruce Beresford.

Buy a copy of The Age of Discretion here.


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