Monday 28 January 2013

BOOK REVIEW: I Don't Know How She Does It (Allison Pearson)

Kate Reddy is a hedge-fund manager and married mother of two. She has it all – except for time.

We meet our heroine, having taken a night flight home from a meeting in Sweden, squashing shop-bought mince pies to make them look homemade for her daughter’s school fair.

While Kate excels in her high-flying financial career, we are privy to her ever-evolving to-do list, as she tells herself, Must remember: Angel wings. Quote for new stair carpet. Nanny’s Christmas bribe/present. Emily wants baby Wee-Wee doll. (over my d. Body). Office party what to wear? Black velvet too small. Stop eating NOW. Leg wax no time, shave instead. Book stress-busting massage.

Her husband, Richard, is an amiable architect who lives life on a different time setting to Kate. Nanny Paula is unreliable and her children are delightful, just not when they’re smearing Weetabix on her Armani suit.

Kate constantly strives to achieve more and more in less and less time, battling to maintain a home and work life - not to mention a transatlantic romantic dalliance. It’s not long before the wheels start to come off as the plot accelerates towards its climax.

A smash-hit bestseller that has since been turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, this was an obvious choice for an easy, enjoyable read. It’s full of last-minute trips to New York, flirtatious e-mails and disasters averted.

Like one of my all time favourite books, Bridget Jones Diary, I Don’t Know How She Does it started life as a newspaper column, and shares some of its confessional, first person secret-diary appeal.

But it is more fantasy than comedy, and within it Allison Pearson aims to give a serious commentary on the challenges faced by working mothers. Whether she achieves this by choosing to write about such an exceptionally privileged character is debatable.

None of the characters in the book, other than Kate, are particularly rounded, and specifically it is a shame that her children, Ben and Emily, are not given more of a chance to charm us. By portraying them as the demanding and problematic tots their mother is forced to see them as, the stakes are pretty low when it comes to the choices Kate is forced to make.

Kate, however, is vividly realised. Love her or loathe her – and at times I did both – it is great fun getting to know her and her action-packed life. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in the thoughts of a woman who practices pelvic floor exercises in the boardroom and uses advice from Toddler Taming to manage the behaviour of her volatile boss?

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