Paperbacks: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, by Rebecca Mille

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Questions of female identity are at the heart of Rebecca Miller's debut novel – a portrait of a middle-aged woman who has learnt to keep her real self under wraps.

Married to a New York publisher 30 years her senior, Pippa Lee has dedicated herself to becoming the perfect helpmeet and wife. When the novel opens she and her husband, Herb, have just moved into a retirement community in Connecticut. Here, Pippa continues to entertain Herb's literary friends: soothing writerly egos with butterflied lamb and crème brûlée. Very early on the narrative, which begins as a pithy slice of East Coast satire, strikes a more idiosyncratic note. In an affecting first person account, Pippa revisits her intense relationship with her mother: a woman who allowed her to suck on a baby's bottles until well into her teens.

As a young woman, Pippa escapes this perverse maternal bond in a series of marriage-wrecking affairs. Pop psychology and well-judged insight are combined in a novel that explores how far Pippa's real self is compromised by marriage with a much older, successful man. Pippa admits to finding the mystery of other people "almost unbearable". Luckily for us, Miller (the daughter of the late Arthur Miller) is a writer keyed into the pleasures of full disclosure.