Unaccompanied Women, by Jane Juska

A room, not a man, of her own
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The Independent Culture

Since the publication of her memoir A Round-Heeled Woman, Jane Juska can't leave her Berkeley home without being accosted by elderly fans. Embraced on the sidewalk, hailed from golf buggies, this Californian teacher-turned-writer has become an unlikely "sex guru" for a generation of wrinkly, but irrepressibly randy, baby boomers.

Juska's story began in 1999 when she placed an ad in the personal columns of The New York Review of Books. "Before I turn 67 - next March - I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me": 63 replies were followed by a string of hot dates, literary foreplay and plenty of hit-and-miss sex. The resulting book was notable not only for its frankness about the mechanics of senior love, but the author's honesty about her need - indeed longing - for a physical relationship.

The sequel, Unaccompanied Women, describes her reinvented life as a 72-year old "sexpert". As she searches for the perfect rental property (she lusts after her friends' homes), man-hunting proves no less problematic. Graham, the 32-year-old who won her heart, gets married to a woman his own age. Robert, her second favourite date, runs off with her friend Ilse. John, her part-time New England lover, decides a bi-coastal romance won't work. Juska is left trying to gauge the nutter-quotient of the men who linger at the end of her book signings.

Juska's work has been hailed as taboo-busting, but this isn't the life-affirming read you might expect. Her lonesome kvetchings are enough to leave singletons, of whatever age, a trifle blue. When asked how to meet men, Juska ruefully admits her only advice is to "go online". Life, she concludes, is random, and romance and sex fleeting. Older women will always be marginalised. It's only now, she says, that she understands the last line of The Mayor of Casterbridge: "Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain."

Juska's brave, if occasionally self-consciously bookish, narrative offers insights but no real solutions. At 72 she finds herself back in teen-mode pining for the unattainable, and self-evidently twattish, Graham - or, as he calls himself, "Abelard". Post-breakup tristesse aside, her late-life sexploits have not been in vain. By the end of the adventure, she's finally able to afford a room of her own.

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