In an uproariously funny and achingly sad novel, Allison Pearson captures the guilty secret lives of working mothers, the self-recriminations, comic deceptions, forgeries, giddy exhaustion and despair. With wit, irony and a sparkling style, she brilliantly dramatises the dilemmas of modern working motherhood. Meet Kate Reddy, fund manager and mother of two. She can juggle nine different currencies in five different time zones and get herself and two children washed and dressed and out of the house in half an hour. A victim of ªtime famine ªÆ, Kate counts seconds like other women count calories. As she hurtles between appointments, through her head spools the crazy tape-loop of the working mother ªÆs life: must remember client reports, bouncy castles, transatlantic phone call, nativity play, check Dow Jones, cancel hygienist, squeeze sagging pelvic floor, make time for sex. Factor in a manipulative nanny, an Australian boss who looks at Kate ªÆs breasts as if they ªÆre on special offer, a long suffering husband, her quietly aghast in-laws, two needy children and an e-mail lover, and you have a woman juggling so many balls that some day soon something ªÆs going to hit the ground. Allison takes you into a world so convincing that it ªÆs sure to have a real bearing on your life. Wow - this is one of the most addictive books we ªÆve ever read!
400pp, 129mm x 198mm, Paperback, 2003
He looks down at his shoelaces. “Well, to be honest, I have a pretty hard time with it myself.”
“And for you?”
Rich, meanwhile, was making valiant efforts to pretend I had said bread sauce instead of breadwinner and was dispensing lumps of that porridgey glue to his relatives. “The trouble with you, Kate,” he told me later in our room as he sat on the bed while I packed a bag for my crisis meeting in London, “is that you think that if people have the correct data they will buy your analysis. But they don’t want your data. People - parents- they get to an age when new information is frightening, not helpful. They don’t want to know that you earn more than me. For my father it’s literally unthinkable.”
Donald pushed his specs up his nose and helped himself to parsnips, which I know he can’t stand. Barbara put her hand to her throat as though to cover the puce flush of shock spreading beneath. It couldn’t have been worse if I had announced breast implants or lesbianism or not liking Alan Bennett. All upsets in the natural order.
Oooff. Clearly Cheryl had had one glass of red wine too many, and what was required of me was to rise above it. But after three days of enforced wifely humility, I didn’t feel able to rise above anything. And that was when I began a sentence with the words, “As the main breadwinner in our house...” A sentence I would never finish as it happens because, when I looked at the startled faces, it seemed safer to let it die away like a bugle call.
I didn’t mean to describe myself as the main breadwinner at Boxing Day lunch. It just came out that way. There was a general conversation around the table about New Year’s resolutions and Donald - upright but wistful, like Bernard Hepton in Colditz - said perhaps Katherine could work a bit less in the coming twelve months. That would have been fine - gallant, sweet, caring even - if my sister-in-law hadn’t added with a snort, “So the kids can pick her out in an identity parade.”
“Oh, I know you’re peaky at the best of times, love,” she owns cheerfully. “But a spot of rouge can work wonders. Personally, I can’t speak too highly of Helena Rubinstein’s Autumn Bonfire. Cup of tea?”
I tell her I’m sorry, but that I’ve been up half the night with Emily and I haven’t really slept. I sense her eyes on me: that cool, appraising stare she gave when Rich first brought me home: the way you might look at a heifer in a show-ring.
“Katherine, I hope you don’t think I’m speaking out of turn, but you want to put a bit of make-up on before you come downstairs. You don’t want Richard thinking we’ve stopped making an effort, do we? They soon cotton on the that sort of thing, do men.”
8.51 am: Surface. Feel like a diver in lead boots. Emily is still asleep. Touch her forehead; much cooler. Downstairs, Barbara is tight-lipped in Windsmoor and shooting charged glances at the kitchen clock.
I’’m surprised to feel big little-girl tears start to roll down my cheeks and drip warmly into my ears.
“No, silly, the top of your hair is brown and the bottom is yellow.”
“Oh, is Mummy wearing a lovely brown hat?” I exclaimed.
After finding clean nightwear, changing the bed linen and tucking Em in, I scrape the Russian salad gunk as best I can from Barbara’s duvet cover which I leave to soak in the bath, then I lie on the floor next to my child’s bed and estimate the losses if Abelhammer is so furious that the Salinger Foundation quits Edwin Morgan Forster. Two hundred million dollar account. Heads will roll. And my head is not even highlighted. No time. Emily presented me with a drawing of myself yesterday.
“I feel sick, Mummy, don’t let me be sick again,” she pleads. I carry her across the landing to the bathroom and hold her over the toilet, arching her clear of the rim as my mother always did for me. I feel my palm cold on her forehead; feel her stomach stiffen suddenly and then relax as what’s left in there comes out. Then, when I have undressed us both, we take a silent bath together and I comb the cranberries from her hair.
3.75 am: Emily is sick. Excitement, I think: too much Tweenies chocolate plus large and unaccustomed helping of Mummy. I’m just off the phone to the Japanese rubber company and slipping into bed next to a snoring Richard when there is a cry from the neighbouring room, as though an animal were being hunted in a dream. I go in and find Em sitting up in bed, cupping her left ear. There is sick everywhere: over her nightie, her duvet - oh God, Barbara’s duvet - her blankie, her sheep, her hippopotamus, even her hair. She looks up at me with beseeching horror: Emily hates any loss of dignity.