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I Don't Know How She Does It [Paperback]

Allison Pearson
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (385 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Allison Pearson's debut novel, I Don't Know How She Does It, is a rare and beautiful hybrid: a devastatingly funny novel that's also a compelling fictional world. You want to climb inside this book and inhabit it. However, you might find it pretty messy once you're in there. Narrator Kate Reddy is the manager of a hedge fund and mother of two small children. The book opens with an emblematic scene as Kate "distresses" a store-bought mince pie to make it appear homemade. Her days are measured in increments of minutes and even seconds; her fund stays organized but her house and family are falling apart. The book is a pearly string of great lines. Here's Kate on lack of sleep: "They're right to call it a broken night.... You crawl back to bed and you lie there trying to do the jigsaw of sleep with half the pieces missing." On baby boys: "A mother of a one-year-old son is a movie star in a world without critics." On subtle office dynamics:
The women in the offices of EMF [Kate's firm] don't tend to display pictures of their kids. The higher they go up the ladder, the fewer the photographs. If a man has pictures of kids on his desk, it enhances his humanity; if a woman has them it decreases hers. Why? Because he's not supposed to be home with the children; she is.
There's inherent drama here: Kate is wildly appealing, and we want things to work out for her. In the end, the book isn't a just collection of clever lines on the theme of working motherhood; it's a real, rich novel about a character we come to cherish. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This scintillating first novel has already taken its author's native England by storm, and in the tradition of Bridget Jones, to which it is likely to be compared, will almost certainly do the same here. The Bridget comparison has only limited validity, however: both books have a winning female protagonist speaking in a diary-like first person, and both have quirkily formulaic chapter endings. But Kate is notably brighter, wittier and capable of infinitely deeper shadings of feeling than the flighty Bridget, and her book cuts deeper. She is the mother of a five-year-old girl and a year-old boy, living in a trendy North London house with her lower-earning architect husband, and is a star at her work in an aggressive City of London brokerage firm. She is intoxicated by her jet-setting, high-profile job, but also is desperately aware of what it takes out of her life as a mother and wife, and scrutinizes, with high intelligence and humor, just how far women have really come in the work world. If that makes the book sound polemical, it is anything but. It is delightfully fast moving and breathlessly readable, with dozens of laugh-aloud moments and many tenderly touching ones-and, for once in a book of this kind, there are some admirable men as well as plenty of bounders. Toward the end-to which a reader is reluctant to come-it becomes a little plot-bound, and everything is rounded off a shade too neatly. But as a hilarious and sometimes poignant update on contemporary women in the workplace, it's the book to beat.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Cross Bridget Jones' Diary and The Nanny Diaries, and you get this first novel. Londoner Kate has it all-an incredible job in the financial sector, a loving and supportive husband, two beautiful children, and a wonderful nanny. But having it all doesn't mean that she has time to enjoy it all, and, in fact, she doesn't. Plagued by guilt, she keeps a "must remember" list longer than her arm, shows up for important meetings with baby spit-up on her Armani jacket, and defaces supermarket bakery items so that they will look homemade at her daughter's bake sale. With its chronicle format, lists, and emails, this work is similar to the droves of snappy contemporary novels pouring out of the United Kingdom-but it's more substantial. Pearson has a lot to say about the expectations, internal as well as external, placed on today's working moms. Funny yet heartbreakingly sad, it's a thoughtful read that could lead working mothers to consider life changes. For most fiction collections.
--Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

This novel about the roller-coaster ride of modern motherhood brings its thrills and travails into such terrifying focus that it's practically an IMAX experience, with Lego, Disney videos, and corporate e-mails flying at you from all directions. It opens at 1 A.M. in the kitchen of thirty-five-year-old Kate Reddy, hedge-fund manager and mother of two, who is hitting Sainsbury mince pies with a rolling pin so that they can pass for home-made at her daughter's school: "Now we can manage the orgasms, but we have to fake the mince pies. And they call this progress." The novel's title refers to a remark frequently made by Kate's smug stay-at-home contemporaries, usually right after they've asked when she's switching to part-time. But how long, in fact, will Kate be able to do it—the sleepless nights, the piggish colleagues, the censorious in-laws, the text message from the nanny, received mid-meeting, informing her that she may have lice? Pearson provides a suspenseful and entertaining answer to this question, but along the way she asks some equally tricky ones about the way we live now.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

From Booklist

This terrific novel is alternately hilarious and sad, and the driven, irreverent Kate Reddy is the perfect companion for this headlong voyage into the world of a high-powered hedge fund manager and mother of two. When we first meet Kate, jet-lagged from trips to three cities in four days, she is "distressing" mince pies for her daughter's school concert so they can pass as homemade under the scrutiny of the cadre of judgmental stay-at-home mothers she dubs "The Muffia." Pearson, an award-winning journalist, columnist for The Evening Standard, and mother, knows whereof she writes. Kate's voice rings with authenticity and dark humor, whether she is providing ironic commentary on the e-mails in her overflowing inbox or performing her daily "kit inspection" at the door of her office ("Shoes, matching, two of? Check. No breakfast cereal on jacket? Check"). Comparisons with other entries in the burgeoning "inside the mind of a thirtysomething woman" genre are inevitable, but this is no Kate Reddy's Diary. Pearson has crafted a compelling manifesto on the plight of working mothers that manages to be both angry and funny. Success in Britain, Miramax film rights, and wide publicity will spark demand for this wonderful novel. Meredith Parets
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“Fast . . . funny . . . heartbreaking. . . . You root for Kate the whole length of her roller coaster ride.” —The New York Times Book Review

“The national anthem for working mothers.” —Oprah Winfrey

“A comic wonder: wildly hilarious, achingly sad, perfectly observed.” —The Miami Herald

“The book every working woman is likely to devour. . . . A hysterical look—in both the laughing and crying senses of the word—at the life of Supermom.” —The New York Times

“Think of Kate Reddy as Bridget Jones’ older, harried, married working-mother-of-two sister. . . . Hilarious.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Perfectly captures the driven days and frequently sleep-deprived nights of that modern mammal, the working mother . . . with acute humor, piercing insight and more than a touch of tenderness.” —New York Daily News

“The definitive social comedy of working motherhood.” —The Washington Post

From the Inside Flap

Delightfully smart and heartbreakingly poignant, Allison Pearson?s smash debut novel has exploded onto bestseller lists as ?The national anthem for working mothers.? Hedge-fund manager, wife, and mother of two, Kate Reddy manages to juggle nine currencies in five time zones and keep in step with the Teletubbies. But when she finds herself awake at 1:37 a.m. in a panic over the need to produce a homemade pie for her daughter?s school, she has to admit her life has become unrecognizable. With panache, wisdom, and uproarious wit, I Don?t Know How She Does It brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of every working mom.

From the Back Cover

“Fast . . . funny . . . heartbreaking. . . . You root for Kate the whole length of her roller coaster ride.” —The New York Times Book Review

“The national anthem for working mothers.” —Oprah Winfrey

“A comic wonder: wildly hilarious, achingly sad, perfectly observed.” —The Miami Herald

“The book every working woman is likely to devour. . . . A hysterical look—in both the laughing and crying senses of the word—at the life of Supermom.” —The New York Times

“Think of Kate Reddy as Bridget Jones’ older, harried, married working-mother-of-two sister. . . . Hilarious.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Perfectly captures the driven days and frequently sleep-deprived nights of that modern mammal, the working mother . . . with acute humor, piercing insight and more than a touch of tenderness.” —New York Daily News

“The definitive social comedy of working motherhood.” —The Washington Post

About the Author

Allison Pearson, named Critic of the Year and Interviewer of the Year in the British Press Awards, is a weekly columnist in the London Evening Standard and a member of the BBC’s Newsnight Review panel. She lives in London with her husband, the New Yorker writer Anthony Lane, and their two children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Home

Monday, 1:37 a.m. How did I get here? Can someone please tell me that? Not in this kitchen, I mean in this life. It is the morning of the school carol concert and I am hitting mince pies. No, let us be quite clear about this, I am distressing mince pies, an altogether more demanding and subtle process.

Discarding the Sainsbury luxury packaging, I winkle the pies out of their pleated foil cups, place them on a chopping board and bring down a rolling pin on their blameless floury faces. This is not as easy as it sounds, believe me. Hit the pies too hard and they drop a kind of fat-lady curtsy, skirts of pastry bulging out at the sides, and the fruit starts to ooze. But with a firm downward motion--imagine enough pressure to crush a small beetle--you can start a crumbly little landslide, giving the pastry a pleasing homemade appearance. And homemade is what I'm after here. Home is where the heart is. Home is where the good mother is, baking for her children.

All this trouble because of a letter Emily brought back from school ten days ago, now stuck on the fridge with a Tinky Winky magnet, asking if "parents could please make a voluntary contribution of appropriate festive refreshments" for the Christmas party they always put on after the carols. The note is printed in berry red and at the bottom, next to Miss Empson's signature, there is a snowman wearing a mortarboard and a shy grin. But do not be deceived by the strenuous tone of informality or the outbreak of chummy exclamation marks!!! Oh, no. Notes from school are written in code, a code buried so cunningly in the text that it could only be deciphered at Bletchley Park or by guilty women in the advanced stages of sleep deprivation.

Take that word "parents," for example. When they write parents what they really mean, what they still mean, is mothers. (Has a father who has a wife on the premises ever read a note from school? Technically, it's not impossible, I suppose, but the note will have been a party invitation and, furthermore, it will have been an invitation to a party that has taken place at least ten days earlier.) And "voluntary"? Voluntary is teacher-speak for "On pain of death and/or your child failing to gain a place at the senior school of your choice." As for "appropriate festive refreshments," these are definitely not something bought by a lazy cheat in a supermarket.

How do I know that? Because I still recall the look my own mother exchanged with Mrs. Frieda Davies in 1974, when a small boy in a dusty green parka approached the altar at Harvest Festival with two tins of Libby's cling peaches in a shoe box. The look was unforgettable. It said, What kind of sorry slattern has popped down to the Spar on the corner to celebrate God's bounty when what the good Lord clearly requires is a fruit medley in a basket with cellophane wrap? Or a plaited bread? Frieda Davies's bread, maneuvered the length of the church by her twins, was plaited as thickly as the tresses of a Rhinemaiden.

"You see, Katharine," Mrs. Davies explained later, doing that disapproving upsneeze thing with her sinuses over teacakes, "there are mothers who make an effort like your mum and me. And then you get the type of person who"--prolonged sniff--"don't make the effort."

Of course I knew who they were: Women Who Cut Corners. Even back in 1974, the dirty word had started to spread about mothers who went out to work. Females who wore trouser suits and even, it was alleged, allowed their children to watch television while it was still light. Rumors of neglect clung to these creatures like dust to their pelmets.

So before I was really old enough to understand what being a woman meant, I already understood that the world of women was divided in two: there were proper mothers, self-sacrificing bakers of apple pies and well-scrubbed invigilators of the washtub, and there were the other sort. At the age of thirty-five, I know precisely which kind I am, and I suppose that's what I'm doing here in the small hours of the thirteenth of December, hitting mince pies with a rolling pin till they look like something mother-made. Women used to have time to make mince pies and had to fake orgasms. Now we can manage the orgasms, but we have to fake the mince pies. And they call this progress.

"Damn. Damn. Where has Paula hidden the sieve?"

"Kate, what do you think you're doing? It's two o'clock in the morning!"

Richard is standing in the kitchen doorway, wincing at the light. Rich with his Jermyn Street pajamas, washed and tumbled to Babygro bobbliness. Rich with his acres of English reasonableness and his fraying kindness. Slow Richard, my American colleague Candy calls him, because work at his ethical architecture firm has slowed almost to a standstill, and it takes him half an hour to take the bin out and he's always telling me to slow down.

"Slow down, Katie, you're like that funfair ride. What's it called? The one where the screaming people stick to the side so long as the damn thing keeps spinning?"

"Centrifugal force."

"I know that. I meant what's the ride called?"

"No idea. Wall of Death?"

"Exactly."

I can see his point. I'm not so far gone that I can't grasp there has to be more to life than forging pastries at midnight. And tiredness. Deep-sea-diver tiredness, voyage-to-the-bottom-of-fatigue tiredness; I've never really come up from it since Emily was born, to be honest. Five years of walking round in a lead suit of sleeplessness. But what's the alternative? Go into school this afternoon and brazen it out, slam a box of Sainsbury's finest down on the table of festive offerings? Then, to the Mummy Who's Never There and the Mummy Who Shouts, Emily can add the Mummy Who Didn't Make an Effort. Twenty years from now, when my daughter is arrested in the grounds of Buckingham Palace for attempting to kidnap the king, a criminal psychologist will appear on the news and say, "Friends trace the start of Emily Shattock's mental problems to a school carol concert where her mother, a shadowy presence in her life, humiliated her in front of her classmates."

"Kate? Hello?"

"I need the sieve, Richard."

"What for?"

"So I can cover the mince pies with icing sugar."

"Why?"

"Because they are too evenly colored, and everyone at school will know I haven't made them myself, that's why."

Richard blinks slowly, like Stan Laurel taking in another fine mess. "Not why icing sugar, why cooking? Katie, are you mad? You only got back from the States three hours ago. No one expects you to produce anything for the carol concert."

"Well, I expect me to." The anger in my voice takes me by surprise and I notice Richard flinch. "So, where has Paula hidden the sodding sieve?"

Rich looks older suddenly. The frown line, once an amused exclamation mark between my husband's eyebrows, has deepened and widened without my noticing into a five-bar gate. My lovely funny Richard, who once looked at me as Dennis Quaid looked at Ellen Barkin in The Big Easy and now, thirteen years into an equal, mutually supportive partnership, looks at me the way a smoking beagle looks at a medical researcher--aware that such experiments may need to be conducted for the sake of human progress but still somehow pleading for release.

"Don't shout." He sighs. "You'll wake them." One candy-striped arm gestures upstairs where our children are asleep. "Anyway, Paula hasn't hidden it. You've got to stop blaming the nanny for everything, Kate. The sieve lives in the drawer next to the microwave."

"No, it lives right here in this cupboard."

"Not since 1997 it doesn't."

"Are you implying that I haven't used my own sieve for three years?"

"Darling, to my certain knowledge you have never met your sieve. Please come to bed. You have to be up in five hours."

Seeing Richard go upstairs, I long to follow him but I can't leave the kitchen in this state. I just can't. The room bears signs of heavy fighting; there is Lego shrapnel over a wide area, and a couple of mutilated Barbies--one legless, one headless--are having some kind of picnic on our tartan travel rug, which is still matted with grass from its last outing on Primrose Hill in August. Over by the vegetable rack, on the floor, there is a heap of raisins which I'm sure was there the morning I left for the airport. Some things have altered in my absence: half a dozen apples have been added to the big glass bowl on the pine table that sits next to the doors leading out to the garden, but no one has thought to discard the old fruit beneath and the pears at the bottom have started weeping a sticky amber resin. As I throw each pear in the bin, I shudder a little at the touch of rotten flesh. After washing and drying the bowl, I carefully wipe any stray amber goo off the apples and put them back. The whole operation takes maybe seven minutes. Next I start to swab the drifts of icing sugar off the stainless steel worktop, but the act of scouring releases an evil odor. I sniff the dishcloth. Slimy with bacteria, it has the sweet sickening stench of dead-flower water. Exactly how rancid would a dishcloth have to be before someone else in this house thought to throw it away?

I ram the dishcloth in the overflowing bin and look under the sink for a new one. There is no new one. Of course, there is no new one, Kate, you haven't been here to buy a new one. Retrieve old dishcloth from the bin and soak it in hot water with a dot of bleach. All I need to do now is put Emily's wings and halo out for the morning.

Have just turned off the lights and am starting up the stairs when I have a bad thought. If Paula sees the Sainsbury's cartons in the bin, she will spread news of my Great Mince Pie forgery on the ...

From AudioFile

Meet Kate Reddy, mother of two small children, architect's wife, hedge-fund manager for a prestigious international company headquartered in London, and "priority-juggler." Emma Fielding introduces the listener to Reddy's daily roller-coaster routine. Reddy's wit is her saving grace as she deals with the unexpected on an hour-by-hour basis. Fielding is believable and quite charming in a frenetic performance that captures a female executive on the fast track, who, ironically, is unable to disclose her maternal responsibilities to the company she has helped make so profitable. Any working mother who has been told I don't know how you do it will find this story near and dear to her heart. B.J.P. © AudioFile 2003, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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