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I Don't Know How She Does It: A Comedy about Failure, a Tragedy about Success Paperback – December 1, 2006
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"I love Kate Reddy...her tale made me cry twice and laugh often" * Independent on Sunday * "If you could buy stock in a book, I would stake all my savings on the success of I Don't Know How She Does It. Here at last is the definitive social comedy of working motherhood" * Washington Post * "Refreshingly engaging" * Vogue * "Funny, fast and full of nail-on-the-head observations" * Daily Telegraph * "A book that made me howl with laughter" * The Times * "Searing comedy" * New Statesman * "Painfully funny" * Heat * "Pearson...never hides her intelligence or apologises for her seriousness of purpose" * The Times * "A funny, heartbreaking mirror of the daily lives of mothers" * Telegraph Magazine * "Pearson writes with gratifying elegance and endearing self-mockery" * New York Times *
About the Author
Allison Pearson was born in South Wales. An award-winning journalist, she was named Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards for I Don't Know How She Does It. Allison has written for many magazines and newspapers including the Independent on Sunday, Observer, the Sunday Times and the London Evening Standard. She is a contributing editor to Harper's Bazaar and, for four years, she was the popular Wednesday columnist of the Daily Mail. Allison is now a staff writer at the Daily Telegraph. She lives with her family in Cambridge.
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First, Kate Reddy -- supposedly 35 at the beginning of the 21st century --is SO 80s feministe. I'm 33, and frankly, the whole guilt thing about working, having your children in day care, and not being able to bake homemade cookies for school is so passe. I love work, I love my kid, the day care I use is fabulous, and anyone who thinks I'm going to be up at 2am banging on store-bought pastries to make them look homemade is on crack. It's called LIFE, people. You make your decisions, and you live with them.
Second, Kate, despite being a big-shot fund manager, apparently has no self respect. Any 30-something who graduated from a top college today knows her self-worth, and knows that there are plenty of firms and organizations desperate to get top female talent to join their ranks (at least in America). Seriously, if my boss tried to tell me I wouldn't be getting a raise/bonus and then added EXTRA work on -- when I was in a position to not even be dependent on the job financially -- I'd have a new job lined up somewhere else in about a month. Kate seems to think this treatment is just fine. Similarly, when the men at her firm pull a Clarence Thomas-like stunt on a younger female colleague, Kate sighs and offers a "boys will be boys" excuse to the other woman and predicts that it would be the woman, not the male employees, who would suffer if she tried to report it. What planet is she on? Can someone please name me a major company that would not IMMEDIATELY fire a man (who is, incidentally, also a known cokehead) who created pornographic images of a (minority) female collegue on an office computer and circulated them to all of the other male workers? I can see this happening in some factory to powerless women who have no way out, but this scenario really seems absurd to me in a high-profile international private company.
Finally, Kate Reddy is a disaster of a parent and it's obvious why she can't stand her kids -- they are insufferable brats. Being a working mother and having to get outside help to care for your children does not give you carte blanche to abandon your parenting duties and not help them to understand things like discipline, respect, and making good choices. This goes back to the whole "guilt" thing, which seems to be an excuse for Kate to not actually put any work into being an active parent. Maybe Kate should stop worrying about what the stay-at-home mom across the street thinks of her and use that time to read Dr. Spock. Maybe she needs to take a break from her bra-burning, man-hating rants and and actually have a 21st-century marriage where men (gasp!) communicate with their wives and do housework and help with kids and are not completely incompetent. In any event, Kate Reddy is my worst nightmare for a neighbor/friend/colleague and I felt not a single ounce of sympathy for her through the entire novel.
I've spent more time than I should commenting on this book, so I won't get into the stylistic downfalls, like Pearson's attempt to copy Helen Fielding's tone which results in redundant gimmicks like the "To Do List" at the end of each chapter. Unless your only other option is to fling yourself out of a window, don't read this book (and even then it's really a toss-up).
There are really two sides to this book.
The first one is: Yes, that's true. I know a lot of women like Kate and a lot of guys like the one described in the book who can't get anything things at the store if you don't specifically spell it out correctly for them and would come home empty handed from something really needed if they couldn't find it by themselves. (See the kitchen roll scene.)
I know a lot of people, men and women who go about there days as if at the end of it the workload was always increasing and no matter how much they tried to get ahead of it they can't. Someone should invent a magic bean for those people to help them get some perspective.
The real problem in this book however is not that Kate is really busy, of course working and raising kids at the same time is hard, but isn't it what single parents are doing every day for years without a plan B to escape to? Isn't it what post war women have been doing when they suddenly had to make the country runs are the men were out fighting? Yes, equality is still not there and some of the bias appearing in this book are true.
But the real problem here is Kate's attitude toward the rest of the universe, and there response to her, which leads to the second side in this book.
The second one is: Why does she do it?
I don't think "I don't know how she does it" is the real question the real question is why and the answer is frightening: Low-self Esteem.
So let me explain.
Why would Kate still bear to have her father around? First child's need to please people.
Let's face it. She has a degree from Cambridge and a good progressing carrier but she still us text talk while emailing her friends. Is that supposed to be cool? Last time I checked educated people had even speed in typing especially on a keyboard that they don't use text talk. So was she trying to lower herself down not to appear too pretentious?
And she still takes advices on her child's education from the next door neighbor, a stay at home mum she despise. She managed to get a degree with her education which she continuously pull down as being not as good as her husband's because she doesn't speak Latin but she is still the one making more money. Isn't there a little bit of irrationality in her behavior. Is it that stay at home mums because they are in the same room as their kids all day know better about education than someone who actually studied? Personally I don't think so.
My first thought when I met the nanny was please fire her. Kate is so "busy" she is dying for time but the nanny is always late, does nothing in the house, won't touch the dish washer if someone else than a kid used a plate in it, takes days off, get the kid an haircut without consulting with the mother (father apparently agreed) and gets away with everything because she is so needed. I don't think so. Anybody knows that when you don't do your job properly nobody is giving you a job to do. That nanny gets raise, bonus, plane ticket, concert ticket, and more for making Kate's life difficult. What about calling the agency and get a new one? Or was Kate trying to punish herself for even needing a nanny?
And the husband. Why did she even marry him in the first place? All he does is taking it easy, not buying anything they need (including the presents for his own side of the family at Christmas.) He can't get the kids dressed. He doesn't help with anything in the house and spend a considerable side sitting in front of the TV. And if he does help with something, he needs considerable praise for it. What's the point of having him around? Love? Making her life even more difficult? And he was feeling bad because she made more money. Marriage is like a team where people should help each other and communicate. All there is here is a guy putting his own needs first and never trying to understand how frustrated his wife is getting. Then he just runs away leaving the house and kids to the nanny, life is so easy, isn't it?
Kate is trying so hard to fit every single other character's expectation that there is no limit. Her problem is not her business, it's her inability to say no to anyone.
Yes, she will be a PTA member because she is a bad mother is she isn't.
Yes, she will be cooking because she is a bad mother is she doesn't.
Yes, she will buy present for everyone even when that means to spend the holidays being criticize.
Yes, she will take one more client without a raise because she needs to work like a man (who would have asked for the money)
The thing is, in real life there a lot of people like Kate and they can never please everyone, no matter how much they try.
So she gives up what she likes the most, her job, for what exactly, fit in the shoes of the image of what the perfect mother should be except that a perfect mother doesn't exist.
My point of view is, she doesn't need to get rid of her job, she needs to get rid of the people who actually make life difficult: Muffia, Nanny (get a better one), husband (get a better one?) And even more than that. Stop blaming herself for her own choices.
I'm rather pleased with the epilogue though.
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