Book review: Mutton, By India Knight

Oof! It's only mid life but where have the wolf whistles gone?

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The Independent Culture

I don't believe in aging," wrote Virginia Woolf as she approached 50. "I believe in forever altering one's aspect to the sun." Clara Hutt, the peri-menopausal heroine of India Knight's latest novel, prefers a more interventionist approach.

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Clara, single mother and magazine writer, will already be familiar to fans of the author's previous romantic comedies My Life on a Plate and Comfort and Joy. Now fully ensconced in deepest middle-age, Clara can't help noticing that life is about to take a significant turn. It's not just that her droopy eyelids and trans-brow frown have become into regular fixtures, but she's started making "Oof!" sounds when she sits down, and is missing being whistled at by the builders.

Yet it's only when newly divorced best friend Gaby returns from California that these nagging worries come to a head. Thanks to some West Coast intervention, Gaby looks 15 years younger than when she left. Faced with such a dewy vision Clara starts to wonder if she too should trot off to Harley Street for some magic of her own. And so begins a midlife crisis proper as she struggles to straddle the dangerous divide between "tragic cougar" and "older hottie".

Compared to any number of accounts of midlife crisis, Knight's novel is an admirably slim-line affair. Gamely skipping over the crueller truths of aging, our upbeat heroine admits to feeling horny, owning several pairs of Louboutin shoes and plenty of "kickass underwear". Resisting her natural inclination to lie about in a "onesie" eating cheese, she decides to join Gaby for a "Big Night Out". Soon it's Martinis rather than Botox coursing through her veins, and the results prove surprisingly effective, particularly on the dating front.

Debunking the pressures heaped on the heads of older women, Knight's columnist instincts come to the fore as she addresses the problematic issue of how to age gracefully without caring too much. Over the course of the book Clara's romantic star rises but it's the warmth of friends and family that continue to bathe her in the most flattering light of all.