A spurned wife survives without throwing Key Lime pies
Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. By Elizabeth Buchan. Penguin, 341 pp., $14, paperback.
By Janice Harayda
Women of a certain age have come of age in print. Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck put them on the bestseller list. And other recent books about women well past 40 have had literary or commercial success or both, including Virginia Ironside’s novel No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club and Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive.
But the trend may have started a few years ago with the bestsellerdom of the British novelist Elizabeth Buchan’s Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. The title might lead you to expect a Heartburn with bifocals, a merciless satire intended to settle a few scores inspired by real life. Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman is instead a light, amusing novel about a 47-year-old newspaper editor in London, Rose Lloyd, whose husband leaves her for her younger deputy, Minty.
No hurler of Key Lime pies, Buchan’s heroine takes only the gentlest revenge on her betrayers, free of the over-the-top scheming found in novels such as The Red Hat Club and The First Wives Club. Before her marriage, Rose had an affair with a brilliant travel writer. And her story hinges on whether you can rekindle a bonfire that blazed years earlier (and holds more surprises than you might expect from that familiar set-up).
In Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, Buchan falls somewhere between Ireland’s Maeve Binchy and England’s Joanna Trollope in the ratio of salt to sugar in her fiction. She takes more risks than Binchy but fewer than Trollope. And if her novel has fairy-tale elements, it also has shrewd and mature observations on marriage. Rose explains her husband’s departure by saying: “We had been at that stage of taking each other for granted yet we had not yet reached the stage when we were strong enough that it was no longer dangerous.”
Recommendation? A more intelligent novel — and, for that reason, a much better choice for book clubs looking for light, entertaining reading — than, say, Holly Peterson’s The Manny or Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus’s Dedication.
Published: December 2003
Reading group guide: At www.elizabethbuchan.com
Furthermore: This review appeared in different form in the St. Petersburg Times. Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman was made into a 2004 movie starring Christine Lahti as Rose. Search the Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com for the title for more information about it.
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(c) 2007 All rights reserved. Janice Harayda.