Yale, £18.99, 336pp. £17.09 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Losing It, By William Ian Miller

Would the author of Where Angels Fear to Tread have ventured upon butt-waxing? This stray, even idle thought surfaces while reading William Ian Miller's account of the shrinking brain and concomitant weakenings. He ranges widely but accords no space to EM Forster, who lived beyond 90 but, decades earlier, lamented the hair between his buttocks.

Despite gaining down below what he lost on top, Forster continued to write lucidly even if falling asleep at Britten's War Requiem and, on another occasion, humorously remedying the situation after failing to recognise Christopher Isherwood.

All of which is to wander from - or be stimulated by - Miller's study of the ageing brain. It grew, at 65, from his own preoccuption with senior moments - despite his ninetysomething mother continuing to swim a daily half mile and shame her juniors on the golf course. Still, vexingly, film-wise, Miller forgot the city - not Tangiers or Marrakech - in which police chief Claude Rains rounds up the usual suspects.

Miller's professorial subject is law, which for him means human nature, often echoed by his passion for the Icelandic Sagas, with equal measure accorded to the Bible. The rest of the "three-score years and ten" Psalm continues, "and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away". By contrast, Miller's own prose is dry: a biscuit supporting the Stilton of his references and such aperçus as "it is next to impossible to cheat others of the small pleasures they achieve at your expense".

He is ready with Rochester's wonderful line, "and being good for nothing else, be wise". But, as he does Proust's last volume, he overlooks Matthew Arnold's poetic inversion of Browning's "Grow Old With Me" into the searing "Growing Old", when "we are frozen up within, and quite/ The phantom of ourselves,/ To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost/ Which blamed the living man".

Miller certainly shudders when glimpsing himself in a shop window, and notes that Alzheimer's patients, oblivious to their names on a nursing-home door, can find their way back by dint of a decades-old photograph thereupon. Looking back at his old articles, he boggles at references drawn upon without "the Google crutch".

Did Google sustain Losing It? If so, here is a full-throttle performance in which the Middle Ages are a solace for middle age. He embraces revenge, humilation, etymology, the Gettysburg Address - and Miller's grandmother who, at a young age, took to her bed, but drew a suitor into it, and, obviously enough, there yielded offspring.

If Miller's summaries of Sagas and Biblical stories cannot match the orginal, his book is the very reverse of the enfeebled Kingsley Amis endlessly typing "seagulls" – a departure so far from Verdi's great late flourishes. Which prompts another stray thought: instead of becoming a legend from another era, Virginia Woolf could easily have lived to sing along with Beatles songs.

That's hypothesis. Certainly, Miller's mother, not flying away, displayed amazing grace as he finished this book. It's not for me to spoil the story. Seek it out.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor