A book about a mother kicking butt is Fran Littlewood’s triumphant debut. Here, the author outlines the genesis of her novel.
‘Grace is on a quest to demonstrate some fierce mother love, and no thing or person is going to stop her.’
The Amazing Grace Adams is the story of a 45-year-old woman, Grace – a polyglot and former TV star – who’s lost everything. She’s estranged from her husband and child, just lost her job and, according to an article she’s read in the newspaper, at the unhappiest age she could possibly be. She’s at breaking point, where normal rules no longer apply, and so, on the hottest day of the year, Grace abandons her car in gridlocked traffic and sets out, on foot, across London, to try and win back her estranged daughter on her 16th birthday.
Grace is on a quest to demonstrate some fierce mother love, and no thing or person is going to stop her. As she journeys across London, she rips up the social contract; she says and does the things we only dream of saying – to the woman in the chemist who strategically queue jumps, to the window cleaner up a ladder who catcalls her, to the toxic school mum who humble brags at her … She’s having one of the worst days of her life, she’s mad as hell and she’s not taking it anymore.
At a time when there’s a pervasive cult of youth – where a narrow definition of beauty in women is prized above all else, and we’re supposed to adhere to an impossible standard – reaching this midpoint is no easy ride. Ambushed by age and the perimenopause, Grace’s body and mind are betraying her – her face is collapsing, her lips seemingly disappearing overnight – and she’s pretty bewildered by it. It’s a huge and time-sapping preoccupation for lots of women in midlife, because the visible signs of ageing in women are seen as culturally, societally unacceptable. It’s another massive double standard, of course – men with ‘salt and pepper’ hair are ‘silver foxes’ after all, and so on … In terms of menopause, it’s something people haven’t been talking about until very recently. As Michelle Obama has said, it’s something that fifty per cent of us will go through, and we’re acting as if it’s not happening.
Grace is at a very similar stage in her life to me and many of my friends, and the idea for the novel started with her. I wanted to write a woman in the middle of her life, but I wanted to write the women around me as they actually are. So as a corrective to the prevailing narrative that women at this point in their lives are downtrodden and boring and we ought to feel sorry for them. I felt so strongly I didn’t want to misrepresent these women – I wanted to write something that wasn’t vanilla or sanitised. I also wanted to convey the humour and the hope. Because Grace isn’t over the hill, she’s not past it. True, she’s encumbered – life really has thrown a lot at her – but she’s still as brilliantly kick-ass as she ever was! (She’s just also quite tired …)
This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine from Penguin Random House South Africa.