The Orange Prize-winning novelist, Linda Grant, talks to Samira Ahmed about her new novel on the often “toxic” legacy of the babyboomer generation.
The novel – titled We Had It So Good, after the famous comment of the Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1957 – traces the lives of a group of postwar babies who grow to become friends.
Enjoying the benefit of free university places, they become the elite of the student elite – from their hippie days in 60s Oxford they move seamlessly to professional success in London.Their paths cross with Tony Blair – a fellow Oxford boomer – and another future leader – Bill Clinton, who is a Rhodes Scholar.
But the reckoning for them comes – as Linda Grant says it came for her – on 11 September 2001. It was the moment that inspired her book – raising the question of how the generation that enjoyed the best of legacies from its predecessors left so little for its successors.
“It is said that the luckiest people who have ever lived were born in 1948, because they got all the goodies thrown at them.” Linda Grant
“I remember having this very strong feeling of ‘my generation has had an incredibly long of prosperity and good fortune and perhaps all of that is about to change and we are going to enter sort of dark and difficult times’,” she told Samira Ahmed.
“I personally don’t feel guilty. I think we were profoundly lucky. It is said that the luckiest people who have ever lived were born in 1948, because they got all the goodies thrown at them.
“They got the National Health Service. They got the grammar schools. They got the expansion of university education. They go the music. They got the fashion. They got starting their careers before the 70s recession. They got into the housing market at the right time and then they retired just before the final salary pension schemes ended.”
But Linda Grant is worried about the “arrogance” of her generation – the belief that it would be forever young and had all the answers to the world’s problems.
“And as I reached middle age and my parents were ill – dying – you suddenly realised that our parents’ generation were the really interesting generation because the world had been changed, but it had been changed before we were born,” sha said.
“And the great social legislation of the 60s – legalised abortion, legalised homosexuality, equal pay – all these really important things were not made by my generation, they were made by the generation of the 30s, who were in positions of power in the 1960s.”
“Our inability to deal with ageing…is a sort of toxic legacy.” Linda Grant
But whereas the pre-war generation had left a good legacy for its children, they in turn had failed to do so for the next generation, partly through their belief in never growing old.
“In a way, the most malign aspect of my generation – and what has been a bad inheritance – was this whole business of youth,” she said. “Because we thought we were born young and would stay young forever, many women of my generation cannot tolerate it…
“Our inability to deal with ageing – and fear and hatred of ageing and of old age – I think is a sort of toxic legacy.”