The funny, heartbreaking story of Kate Reddy, the working mother extraordinaire juggling early motherhood with a highly flying career was devoured by women everywhere. Now the heroine of the runaway bestseller, I Don’t Know How She Does It, is back in Allison Pearson’s long-awaited sequel, How Hard Can It Be?
Set a decade and a half later, Kate’s 50th birthday beckons, she’s desperate to return to work and her husband Rich is suffering his own mid-life crisis (think cycling, lycra and tofu), and re-training to be a counsellor. Sadly, it won’t pay the mortgage on the crumbling renovation that Kate insisted on buying, or the wages of Piotr, the Polish builder.
So needs must and Kate determines to return to high finance, only to find that years of planning the lives of teenagers and raising funds for the local parish isn’t going to cut it with the City of London big shots. For support, Kate joins a group for older women trying to re-join the workforce – ‘returners’ they call themselves. ‘Women Returners,’ says Kate. ‘They sound like ghosts in some horror movie don’t they? If only they can escape the Mummy’s Curse and rely on someone else to take the lasagne out of the freezer and give Grandma her statins.’
Kate faces the many challenges familiar to soon-to-be fifty women, stretched to almost breaking point between the demands and needs of ageing parents and out-of-control teenagers. Richard’s mother is suffering spiralling dementia, while their teenage daughter is facing the fall-out after a shot of her bare bottom goes viral on social media.
In an endless round of sleeplessness, fading memory, creeping weight, and other disturbing symptoms of menopause, Kate finally feels hints of her old self returning after visiting a Harley Street doctor, dubbed Dr Libido. And when a blast from the past emails her out of the blue, Kate might just be about to get her mojo back in more ways than one.
How Hard Can It Be? announces a thrilling return to form for Allison Pearson, the queen of the one-liner and astute chronicler of contemporary life and its demands on women. Full of laugh out loud scenes such as Kate getting stuck as she tries on control underwear for the job interview where she pretends to be seven years than younger than she really is, there’s a poignancy as well as ageing parents become unwell.
Allison Pearson skewers modern society – class and wealth, sexism in the workplace, the rise of the intern, Russian oligarchs, competitive parenting, the perils of social media and above all, the cruel prejudice against women of a certain age. But to the loud cheers of readers, the indomitable Kate does not give up easily, and in a triumph of experience over age, proves that women turning fifty still have a lot to contribute.
Sarah Jessica Parker played Kate Reddy to in the Hollywood adaptation of Pearson’s original bestseller. We can’t help wonder, who will play the almost-50 Kate?