The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for an age-gap between lovers


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Ailment: Age-gap between lovers

Cure: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka

'May-December romances' tend to worry those observing the relationship more than those in it, but the disapproval of others can be annoying at best and undermining at worst. If you are on the verge of falling into the arms of someone substantially older or younger than you, it's worth asking yourself whether the relationship has what it takes to stand tall in the face of inevitable prejudice. As Marina Lewycka's story of inter-generational love shows, if either one of you is in denial about your own or your lover's motivations, the judgements may have reason to stick.

When Nadja's 86-year-old father announces his engagement to Valentina, a 36-year-old Ukrainian divorcée with "superior breasts" and an ambition to escape her drab life, Nadja gets straight to the point. "I can see why you want to marry her. But have you asked yourself why she wants to marry you?" At some level Papa knows that it's a visa and a posh car she's after; but he sees no harm in giving Valentina these things if he can indulge his still-lusty appetites. Besides, won't she cook and clean for him? But when Valentina brings them all to their knees with boil-in-the-bag cuisine, then cleans out his life savings instead of his underwear drawer, he refuses to open his rheumy eyes. It takes a good deal of teamwork between Nadja and sister Vera to persuade him to see the damage this "fluffy pink hand-grenade" is doing to their lives.

Though our sympathies lie with the daughters, you'd have to be a bit mean-spirited to begrudge the elderly tractor fanatic the new burst of life that Valentina, for all her faults, gives him. As long as both parties understand and accept one another's motivations, an inter-generational relationship can be a wonderfully symbiotic thing. Arm yourself with a good put-down in case of negative comments, then fall away – whatever the age of those arms.