Book of the week
HOW HARD CAN IT BE? ALLISON PEARSON HARPERCOLLINS, $35
Fifteen years after her 2002 debut, the beleaguered Kate Reddy’s children are now difficult teenagers, her mother-in-law has dementia, her high-paying job in the City has given way to housewifery, her hormones have departed to menopause (while her teenage daughter’s are running amok) and her husband is having a lycra-clad midlife crisis on an expensive bicycle.
Those of us women who identified with Allison Pearson’s first novel of toddler tantrums and multi-tasking while holding down a demanding job will surely identify with Kate again as, older but just as frazzled, she joins the Sandwich Generation – sandwiched between the demands of teenagers, frail parents and a career.
A good 10 years older than Pearson/reddy, I found myself looking back – not just on my own similar experiences but also on the novels I wrote a few years ago about a very similar woman, similarly sandwiched. They sold well and struck a chord, but How Hard Can It Be? will sell millions, judging by the popularity of Pearson’s first novel and the equally high standards of this one.
The message is all in this social comedy. The plot is a bit thin and a tad predictable, but it rollicks along nevertheless as we identify with the appealingly vulnerable protagonist. Kate has to go back to work in the City to pay for the “Money Pit” created by seemingly endless renovations to their crumbling home and to make up for her husband Rich’s decision to spend two years retraining as a counsellor while acquiring increasingly expensive bikes.
But her first job interview, at which she admits she is 49, goes so badly she decides to admit only to 42, and embarks on crash diets, liposuction and other imageenhancing tricks. Meanwhile her daughter Emily has sent a“belfie” (a selfie of her bare bottom) to a friend who, of course, sends it round the whole school and beyond; her son Ben is permanently attached to a screen while seemingly losing the power of speech; her mother wants to discuss the colour of her carpet for hours on end; her in-laws badly need home care; and Rich’s preoccupation leaves the door open for the reappearance of a long-lost love.
It’s always hard to strike a balance between overdoing the angst that goes with being pulled in so many directions and keeping the reader engaged and entertained, but Pearson does it well. She is such a good writer. There is a lot of angst, but she paces it with witty one-liners, wise observations, and phrases you’d like to cut out and keep. Like the teenage belief that “a mother’s place is in the wrong”. There are plenty of “A-ha” moments just like that as we see bits of ourselves on almost every page.