Within the growing body of interdisciplinary work on ageing, more attention is now paid to literary engagement with and representations of ageing, often in the form of literary gerontology. This field locates literature as part of the cultural discourses around ageing in our society. Pat Barker's work, already the subject of some gerontological attention, is important here, because her texts offer detailed representations of the ageing subject, and engage with the often disturbing challenges that ageing presents to self and social identity. This paper considers three of Pat Barker's novels –Another World (1999), Liza's England (1986/1996), and Union Street (1982) – within one of the central debates in ageing studies: how far we are aged by culture and where culture might meet the material. In these novels, ageing characters are clearly at the mercy of cultural constructions of age; nevertheless, the texts also insist on the centrality of the body, forcefully reminding us of the limits of cultural ageing. This paper argues that these novels explore the interplay between cultural and corporeal ageing, forcing the reader to acknowledge the complexities of, and unsettle any easy assumptions about, ageing subjectivity. In the process, this suggests that what fiction can offer to gerontology is, at least in part, an exploration of the ineluctability of ‘contradictions’ when it comes to ageing.