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Monday, 14 May 2012

Book Review: Susie Nott-Bower's "The Making of Her"

Set in the pressure-cooker world of television, The Making of Her is a blackly funny retort to a society which values youth over age and appearance over experience. The Making of Her is the makeover programme that Clara never wanted to produce, featuring the one person she never would have chosen. Add to the mix an errant husband, a barefoot counsellor and a reclusive rock star and change is inevitable. Will transformation come from the inside out, or from the outside in? And will The Making of Her prove to be the making of them all?

The Making of Her follows the stories of three middle-aged characters, as they struggle to make their way in a youth obsessed culture. There is Jo, a writer who loses all confidence in herself following the break down of her marriage; Clara, the high-flying television producer who finds herself under more and more pressure to conform in an industry dominated by the young, and Pete is the aging rock star who has lost everything.

I've read a lot of books, and it's a rare treat to find someone who shows as much startling potential as debut novelist Susie Nott-Bower. The Making of Her is an entertaining story, with characters you cannot help but become attached to. Nott-Bower writes of her characters' insecurities and worries with touching precision and a competence that made me feel as though these characters really exist somewhere.

As a young woman, it is extraordinarily refreshing to read a book from the perspective of characters in their fifties, particularly the female characters. A lot of women are made to feel insecure about their appearance, primarily due to representations of women in the mainstream media. We are sold the ideals of what a female body should be, when this is quite simply, ridiculous. I was speaking with a friend recently about women's sizes, which time and again, fail to take into consideration the plethora of women's body shapes and sizes. There simply is no 'right' or 'normal' body shape. We are all different.

This issue is addressed powerfully byway of Jo's story in the novel. Jo is someone who has never felt herself to be particularly attractive (primarily due to her cruel mother and inconsiderate husband). She feels that the only way to create a positive change on the inside is to change the outside, and so decides to take part in a drastic makeover show 'The Making of Her'. What I enjoyed most about Jo's story is that Nott-Bower does not claim that cosmetic surgery is the answer; nor does she suggest that Jo is vain for choosing to undergo these procedures. It is all far more complicated. Jo herself says it is both the worst thing she's ever done, and the best thing because of the way it makes her feel about who she is as a person. In fact, undergoing the surgery makes her more eager to make sure people like and respect her for her personality and not her appearance.

Clara's story is about being marginalized in a professional environment due to her age. This was difficult to read about, as many of my female role models are middle aged, and in my experience these are often the women who have the best advice to offer you because they know what they're talking about. Clara is a television producer with integrity, so when she is forced to shift from making hard hitting documentaries to creating a run of the mill makeover show, she is less than thrilled. However, Clara's story goes deeper than that, and is about the sacrifices some women make to achieve their professional ambitions. Nott-Bower questions whether this has proven right and fulfilling for Clara, or whether she has failed to find a work life balance that suits her.

This novel succeeds in bringing to light these marginalized middle-aged voices. To hear someone I know tell me that she used to turn heads when she walked into a room and now she's nearing fifty, she feels invisible, is shocking, because it reveals what our society truly values.

Catch an interview with Susie on the Cyprus Well website. 



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