The Old Joke

Reina James

Published: 4 March 2010
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 336 pages
ISBN: 9781846271953


Mim Lyons is a retired film actress, occasionally still recognized from her last great starring role in the late 1960s, but now more than content to restrict her performances to occasional play-readings with a group of old friends from the theatrical world. But when her agent calls out of the blue with a job offer, her husband begins to have his own dreams and schemes about the possibility of a comeback in a role that unsettles Mim's perception of how her husband sees her - and of who she really is. As Mim struggles to preserve the quiet surface of the existence she has created away from the limelight, it becomes impossible to ignore the turmoil in the lives of those closest to her. While her friends' marriage hits the rocks, her son struggles to clean up his act, her estranged daughter floats back into her life, and her husband is suddenly rendered vulnerable, Mim gradually comes to reassess the roles she has been playing - as friend, as daughter, as mother and as wife - and to decide who exactly she wants to be.

About the author

Image of Reina James

Reina James is the author of This Time of Dying and The Old Joke. She lives in Sussex with her husband. More about the author


‘A bright, funny story ... Reina James describes beautifully the dilemma of seeing disaster looming for a friend while being unable to prevent it and, in attempting to provide a diversion, getting steamrollered by events. We see it all through Miriam's eyes and ... are drawn into her enjoyable, rather sideways view of the world and share her helplessness, all the while cheering her on her resilience as she copes heroically with a life on the downward slope’ Robert Bathurst



‘A brilliant talent.’ Gerald Jacobs

‘A fresh clear narrative and very dryly and wryly observed’ Maureen Lipman

‘An engrossing first-person narrative ... there is a charm and deft humour to James' clear prose, which will have many readers nodding in recognition at the all too real characters and situations that make up this poignant meditation on ageing, family and friendship’

‘It's rare that we read about the lives of older people in fiction, and James is to be commended for writing about them’ Lesley McDowell

‘Prize-winning author Reina James has created an utterly convincing narrator, at once witty and vulnerable, desperate to change her existence but with no idea how. The wonderful touching depiction of the mutual tolerance and affection necessary to sustain a long marriage is worth the price of the ticket on its own’ John Harding

‘Reina James ... is wonderfully funny and sympathetic, wickedly sharp and disrespectful about our ambitions and identities in the later stages of our lives’ Iain Finlayson

‘This is black comedy, but achieved with a delightful sense of the ridiculous. James keeps up the tension, so that one becomes quite eager to know what's going to happen next’ Michael Connal

‘Told through the mind of a retired actress, Mim, whose career is at its ebb ... it examines themes of ageing and inching towards death - but in a humorous register.’ Arifa Akbar

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