“I don’t believe in aging,” wrote Virginia Woolf when she hit 50. “I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun.” Clara Hutt, the peri-menopausal heroine of India Knight’s latest novel, favours a less philosophical approach.
For one thing, she’s not comfortable with the appearance of a trans-brow wrinkle, and she’s still in hock to biology – and in search of a mate: “It’s as crude and basic as that.”
Readers of Knight’s previous romantic comedies, My Life on a Plate and Comfort and Joy, will already be familiar with the dating and family complications of single mother and magazine writer Clara Hutt. Now fully installed in the second half of her life, Clara is alarmed to find herself going “oof” when she sinks into a chair and being ignored by young waiters.
Matters come to a head when newly divorced best friend Gaby returns from California and moves in with her. Gaby is no stranger to cosmetic intervention, but Clara’s not sure if she dares follow suit. And so begins her own midlife crisis and a struggle to straddle the dangerous sartorial divide between “tragic cougar” and “older hottie”.
In comparison with middle-aged male shag-quests, Knight’s novel is an admirably slim-line affair. And unlike fellow-columnist Jane Shilling’s recent elegiac account of life after 45, it won’t drive you to leap off the nearest bridge. Instead, Knight cheers us up with caustic observations and flashes of schoolgirl hilarity as her fictional alter ego valiantly resists her inclination to lie about in a “onesie eating cheese” and instead joins Gaby on a Big Night Out, kicking off with cocktails at Claridge’s.
Such a tale of Harley Street makeovers and matronly madness has all the makings of a Fay Weldon-esque morality tale. But Knight’s fiction has more in common with the Nora Ephron school of novelistic journalism. Nailing with wit and intelligence the demanding art of being a woman, Knight consoles and entertains with a slice of feminism-lite. Clara’s romantic star rises dramatically, but as ever in Knight’s universe, it’s a constellation of friends and family that bathes our heroine in the most flattering light of all.
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