"Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" is how the expressive narrator of Virginia Ironside's novel describes the atrophic joys of post-menopausal sex. It's a typically upfront reaction in a book that acts as a salutary antidote to a slew of memoirs celebrating the love life of the "seasoned" older woman. In her comic debut, a fictional diary recording a year in the life of retired art teacher Marie Sharp, agony aunt Ironside explores the possibility of giving up men - full stop.
Men are not the only item struck off Marie's list. On the eve of her 60th birthday, she decides to renounce dinner parties. One of her first entries recalls a final West London soirée at which she finds herself a lone dissenter in a room of proselytising "oldies". Forget university "nodules", learning Italian and bookclubs, Marie feels like squawking, it's time to enjoy the "blissful relief" of not having to be "young and stimulated" any more.
Ironside is a natural embellisher, and like all good diary-humorists mixes gossip, observation and grievance. Far from being uninterested in life, Marie finds herself more kindly disposed to the human race than ever. Alongside her lifelong pals - whose health scares provide the central drama - she is a doting grandmother to baby Gene, and a maternal figure to European strays who turn up at her kitchen table.
While Marie may have given up the fantasy of finding a man who isn't mad, married or "looking after four severely disabled children", best mate Penny is busy internet dating. Penny's pick'n'mix beaux include a pocket-sized professor from Northumberland and a New Age healer from the West Country. Men, memory loss and minor ailments are the friends' favoured topics of conversation, closely followed by the horrors of beige shoes, seniors with too much hair, receding gums and (sorry) shrinking clitorises.
Amusing, unguarded and of the moment, Ironside's observations will strike a chord with baby-boomers, in much the same way that Helen Fielding spoke to thirtysomething angst. What is interesting is how much, rather than how little, Bridget Jones and Marie have in common. Marie continues to look for love and sex in all the wrong places. Thank goodness, then, for Archie - childhood friend turned "dishy" widower, who sees Marie for the game old bird she is.
Chicks of whatever age, it would seem, need a Mr Darcy (along with an Ironside helping of K-Y Jelly).Reuse content