Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman
Get ready to cheer for Rose Lloyd, a woman of young middle-age who proves that starting over doesn’t have an age limit. After twenty-five years spent juggling husband, career, and kids with admirable success, Rose suddenly finds both her marriage and her career in unexpected ruin. Forced to begin a new life, she is at first terrified, then energized, by her newfound freedom—it’s amazing what prolonged reflection, a little weight loss, a new slant on independence, and some Parisian lingerie will do for the psyche! Witty, insightful, and emotionally resonant, Buchan’s novel will strike a chord with anyone who has ever wondered what Middle Age would look like from the other side of the looking glass (answer: much better than you could ever expect).
'Here,' said Minty, my deputy, with one of her breathy laughs, 'the review has just come in. It's hilariously vindictive.' She pushed towards me a book entitled A Thousand Olive Trees by Hal Thorne with the review tucked into it.
For some reason, I picked up the book. Normally I avoided anything to do with Hal but I did not think it mattered this once. I was settled, busy, different, and I had made my choice a long time ago.
When we first discussed my working on the books' pages, Nathan argued that, if I ever achieved my ambition to become the books editor, I would end up hating books. Familiarity bred contempt. But I said that Mark Twain had got it better when he said that familiarity breeds not so much contempt but children, and wasn't Nathan's comment a reflection on his own feelings about his own job? Nathan replied, 'Nonsense, have I ever been happier?' and 'You wait and see'. (The latter was said with one of his lovely, strong-man I know-better-than-you smiles, which I always enjoyed.) So far, he had been wrong.
For me, books remained full of promise, and contained a sense of possibility, any possibility. In rocky times, they were saviours and lifebelts, and when I was younger they provided chapter and verse when I had to make decisions. Over the years of working with them, it had become second nature to categorize them by touch. Thick, rough, cheaper paper denoted a paperback novel. Poetry hovered on weightless and were decorated with wide white margins. Biographies were heavy with photographs and the secrets of this subjects' life.
Minty was watching my reaction. She had a trick of fixing her dark, slightly slanting eyes on whoever, and of appearing not to blink. The effect was of rapt, sympathetic attention, which fascinated people and also, I think, comforted them. That dark, intent gaze had certainly comforted me many times during the three years we had worked together in the office.
'"This man is a fraud,'" she cited from the review.
My attention was diverted by the internal phone. It was Steven from Production. 'Rose, I'm very sorry but we are going to have to cut a page from Books for the twenty-ninth.'
I leant over and touched Nathan's face in the photograph. Clever, loving Nathan. He considered that the job of fatherhood was to keep his children so amused that they did not notice the unpleasant side of life until they were old enough to cope, but he also loved to make them laugh for the pleasure of it. Sometimes, at mealtimes, I had been driven to put my foot down: at best, Sam and Poppy's appetites were as slight as their bodies and I worried about them. 'Mrs Worry, do you not know that people who eat less are healthier and live longer?' demanded Nathan who, typically, had gone to some pains to find out this fact to soothe my fears.
Back to the problem. As always with the paper, there were political factors, none significant in isolation but, taken together, they could add up. I said to Minty, 'I think I'd better go and fight. Otherwise Timon might get into the habit of paring down Books. Don't you think?' The 'don't you think' was cosmetic for I had made up my mind, but I had fallen into the habit of treating Minty (just a little) in the way I had treated the children. I thought it was important to involve them on all levels.
Timon was the editor of the weekend paper in the Vistamax Group for which we worked and his word was law. Minty had her back to me and was searching for Dan Thomas's telephone number in her contacts book. 'If you say so.'
Maeve Otley from the subs desk maintained, with a deep sense of grievance, that it was a voyeur's paradise. It was true: there was nowhere for staff to shake themselves back into their skins, or to hide their griefs and despairs, only the fishbowl where the owners had not bothered to put in a rock or two. I grumbled with Maeve, who was another friend, against the imposition, the terrorism of our employers, but mostly, like everyone else, I had adapted and grown used to it.
On the floor below, Steven was surrounded by piles of computer printout and flat-plans, and looked frantic. A half-eaten chicken sandwich was resting in its container beside him with several small plastic bottles of mineral water. When he saw me bearing down on him, he raised a hand to ward me off. 'Don't, Rose. It's not kind.'
I thought nothing of it. As deputy editor of a daily paper published by the Vistamax Group, Nathan was a busy man. Friday was a day packed with meetings and, more often than not, he stumbled back to Lakey Street wrung out and exhausted. Then it was my business to soothe him and to listen. If the look on his face was anything to go by, and after twenty-five years of marriage I knew Nathan, this was a bad Friday.
The lift bore me upwards. Jobs and spouses held things in common. With luck, you found the right one at the right time. You fell in love with a person, or a job, tied the knot and settled down to the muddle and routine that suited you. I admit it was not entirely an accident that Nathan and I worked for the same company - an electronics giant which also published three newspapers and several magazines under its corporate umbrella — but I liked to think that I had won my job on my own merits. Or, if that was not precisely true, that I kept on my own merits.
Poppy hated what Nathan and I did. At twenty-two, she had stopped laughing and believed that lives should be useful and lived for the greater good, or she did at the last time of asking. 'Why contribute to a vast, wasteful process like a newspaper?' she wanted to know. 'An excuse to cut down trees and print hurtful rubbish.' Poppy had always fought hard, harder than Sam, and her growing up had been like a glove being turned inside out, finger by finger. If you were lucky, it happened gently, the growing-up part, and Poppy had not fared too badly, but I worried that she had her wounds.“Wise and wonderful . . . Buchan celebrates the patience and wisdom that only age can bring.” (USA Today)
“Bottom line: Get Revenge.” (People)
“Revenge may be sweet, but Revenge is not, thank goodness.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“What I like about this book is everything.” (Elizabeth Berg)
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