Book Review: Beyond Beige by Sylvie Boulay ‘A Woman’s Illustrated Story of Old Age’
I opened this book cautiously. Did I really want to have confirmation that getting older is grim? Or to be greeted by pages of positive affirmations – which work for many but not for my degree of cynicism?
It turned out these were unnecessary worries. Beyond Beige is a short and honest illustrated book which tells the story of the changes experienced by the author, Sylvie Boulay, as she hit her 60s and into her 70s.
I still wasn’t sure what to feel about it. It’s entertaining. It’s reassuring in places, because sometimes there’s stuff you don’t talk about to even the closest of friends, and you feel like you’re the only one in the world going through it. It’s not all relatable to my life, but why would it be? But I wasn’t sure what I needed to do or feel having read it.
However, having questioned the author a little further, it became clear that maybe I’m not its best audience. The book shares experiences of what it’s like to age, and perhaps as such is a useful read for younger people, who may just be discovering that mum, auntie, or friends are becoming somewhat slower in all senses of the word.
Here’s what Sylvie had to say.
Who are the people you would like to see reading this book?
Originally, I intended Beyond Beige to be for women around my age (I am 72) but I discovered that it had much more appeal than expected. I tried drafts of my book with all my friends and young women were also interested. Male friends commented. One said, ‘There is a crying need for a male version of this book’. I hope that young relatives and friends will read it to give them an insider’s view of old age.
What do you expect them to feel when they read it?
I started the drawings for this book to amuse myself and my friends. So, I would first like my senior readers to chuckle and see the funny side of our old age. I also hope that they get reassurance that they are not alone. I hope they may feel the impulse to share their own experiences with their friends and families. When I showed it to my friends, they reflected on what had happened in their own lives.
How might it change how they see their own lives and those of their friends and family?
If Beyond Beige can help communication between people even a tiny bit, that’s a huge bonus. I hope that by sharing my own story in all its gory details, I might make it easier for some readers to be open about what is going on for them. It’s easy to say, ‘My back hurts’ but much harder to admit ‘I feel lonely’ or ‘I am frightened’. If my book can help people to talk, then I have done my job.
Are there actions you would like to see readers taking after reading this book?
I would like my old readers to see that they don’t have to put up and shut up. I want them to talk and talk and talk! I would like them to believe that talking about difficult subjects like depression, death and incontinence is OK. I would like them to review their own lives and perhaps view events in a different light. I would like my readers to show my book to their family and their friends and to discuss it with them.
What has writing this book done for you?
Writing Beyond Beige has done me an incalculable amount of good. I am amazed I managed to produce it using an iPad. It took a lot of tears and many patient helpers but I finally got the hang of drawing with Procreate and I rate this as one of my lifetime achievements. I got talking with my family and my friends about what getting old meant. My lovely son in law said after reading Beyond Beige ‘I now know what it’s like to be old’!
I learned a lot about my friends as they told me stories about themselves that they had never mentioned before.
Sharing painful parts of my life, especially my childhood experiences, made me realise the amazing skills I gained as a result. Instead of feeling resentful I started to see the whole episode as incredibly useful.
I am more hopeful about the future. When I started, I was frightened I might not finish the book. I imagined all sorts of scenarios from breaking my arm and not being able to draw to falling ill or even dying. Seeing my book in print was a huge relief and proof that I could start new projects and trust that there is a good chance of completing them.
The interest in Beyond Beige has made me realise that being old does not mean being quiet. The experience of old age is fascinating and should not be hidden. I may be invisible but I have found my voice and I am using it!
Beyond Beige is published by Ortus Press. It’s a paperback with 129 pages and plenty of cartoons (though sadly not printed on the best quality paper).