Review by Annabel
Those of you who’ve read journalist and author Lucy Mangan’s ‘memoir of childhood reading’, Bookworm, (which Liz reviewed here) will rejoice that she has now written a novel that is just as enchanting and funny.
Mangan takes her inspiration from EM Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady, published in 1930, which follows a year in the life of an unnamed narrator and her struggle to run her household which includes a cook, a maid and governess plus look after her two children and husband. Those diaries are delightful, and under the Provincial Lady’s ever-present sense of impending panic, they are full of witty observation.
Mangan’s equivalent is narrated by Liz, mum to sensitive seven-year-old Thomas (‘”Seven and a half and a bit” says his voice in my head.’) and the whirlwind that is five-year-old Evie. Her husband Richard is a barrister, and Liz works for a charity. Between them, they just about manage the children, watched by Henry the cat.
All modern, middle-class life is here. Key, of course, are the cliques of school-gate mums, ‘Easy friendship on the outside, eternally riven with secret rivalries and hatreds inside.’ Three of those mums, Céline, Fiona and Nadia, form the corners of what Richard calls Liz’s ‘coven square’. Many of the funniest scenes involve the quartet against the world when they get together every Thursday evening, and when they get the ‘shit jobs’ at the junior disco (having blotted copybooks with the PTA back in Reception). Been there! Done that! Loved it!
Liz’s rock is Richard. They have a lovely relationship that is still comfortable, they can still talk to each other about anything. Friend Rachel’s husband Alex has left her and their kids, and Liz, who is about to turn forty, is left feeling a little insecure at bedtime:
…I have to ask. ‘Dingus?’ I say.
‘Yes, light of my life,’ he says, peaceably turning another page of his book. (Somehow he is always in bed before me. Probably because I still, after thirty years, cannot undo my bra in one swift or easy motion.)
‘Have you ever had the urge to run off and pork someone new?’
[…] I love you, and porking you, and you and the porking of you only.’
This man is a keeper!
Liz also has her struggles at work, where she has a temporary boss. The trouble is that said boss is young and ambitious. Liz calls her the ‘Child Boss’, but by the time her contract is over, she’s regressed further in Liz’s mind to the TBB, or ‘Temporary Baby Boss’. Her copybook, however, is well and truly blotted when Liz notices:
Child Boss refers to my working-from-home days as “your “working-from-home” days’. Does … does she not believe me? Or does she just not understand punctuation?
As we progress through the year, Liz shares all the traumas of playdates, parents’ evenings, children’s parties, childhood illnesses and toileting. Then there is the ongoing challenge of getting a plumber in North London – a running gag through most of the book.
All of this contrasts against the summer holidays, which start off well, but gradually progress towards a more ‘STILL the summer holidays’ mode – and that’s not into August yet with their holiday in Norfolk still to go. But no sooner is August done, than it’s the start of a new school year – and this loveable family get the first day of term wrong! How embarrassing. (It happens, truly.)
I chuckled my way through this novel, recognising so many of the situations in its pages. Mangan’s writing is witty and wise, giving us an honest and refreshing look at modern life and parenting with all its ups and downs. I simply loved this delightful and insightful book.
Annabel is a co-founder and editor of Shiny New Books.
Lucy Mangan, Are We Having Fun Yet? (Souvenir Press, 2021). 978-1788161084, 320pp., hardback.
BUY at Blackwell’s via our affiliate link (free UK P&P)