Birthday book review: Queen Bee by Ciara Geraghty

(courtesy Harper Collins Australia)

Humanity is weird.

We are; while we rightly take pride in our many positives and evolutionarily worthy accomplishments, we are also prone to more than a bit of superstition, twisted, strange belief systems and an enduring idea that certainly quite natural things are taboo in some way.

Like menopause for instance.

There is no logic, rhyme of reason to our reluctance to tackle something like menopause head on and the maddening oddity of that is exposed to an hilarious but moving degree in the wonderful new novel from Ciara Geraghty, Queen Bee.

The crowning triumph of this book is its fiery, negative, honest, very funny, exhausted, supremely likable and blisteringly fierce protagonist, Agatha Doyle, who is the sort of person you warm to immediately because she so consistently committed to telling it like it is.

Honestly Agatha is brilliant; she might be cantankerous at times and fed up with how she looks and her inability to finish her 16th novel of historical novel for which she is contractually highlighted and being nicely hounded for by her editor is driving her mad (because apart from anything else her great love and husband Luke need the money) but she’s just so real and willing to talk about things that you feel liberated every time she speaks.

She says the stuff many of us don’t dare to, and while she doesn’t intend to do that at a conference she’s on a panel at, one stupidly insensitive question from a male audience member drives her to vent her slew of feelings about menopause and how infuriating it is that women can’t talk about it and are expected to just suffer in silence.

She hung up before I had a chance to tell her what the problem is.

The problem is: (1) I don’t have a map of my ’emotional landscape’.

And (2): I’m still at the anger stage.

I don’t have a solution.

Nor am I an expert on menopause.

I am just menopausal.

Also, a moany cow who can’t keep her thoughts in check like ordinary people.

It’s a furious spray of epic proportions and naturally it goes viral as #MenopauseTheMovie, almost instantly making Agatha, who already has her hands full, a spokesperson for menopausal women the world over who are well and truly fed up with having to pretend nothing’s wrong when it feels like EVERYTHING is.

Agatha’s viral rant emboldens women everywhere but also increasingly liberated 50-something author from the suburbs of Dublin, Ireland to speak out and air a thousand issues that they are, for reasons known only to humanity’s weird need to hide very real and honest things about who we are and what various stages of life take us through, unable to talk about.

Suddenly the dam bursts, and while Agatha is at first reluctant to become the menopausal poster women for fellow midlifers the world over, she eventually leans into it, writing articles, appearing on TV, radio and podcasts and releasing menopause from the taboo closet where it can be openly discussed.

Key to this discussion is the freedom it gives many women, including Agatha herself who’s on the mother of all arcs, irascibility gleefully intact, thank you very much, to somewhere new and different but still quite familiar, to fall in love with who they are, even in a state that society says, again for bonkers reasons, they should be ashamed of.

(courtesy official author site)

It’s an epic trajectory for Agatha because it’s not like her life isn’t already full to bursting anyway.

Her husband Luke is trying to jeep his family’s café alive and kicking in a world of constant change, her two sons, Aidan and Colm, who are stuck in gloriously messy twenty-something experiments with love and career and who are, crucially, back at home, harshing Agatha’s empty nest buzz, her dad, just widowered and yet with a girlfriend already (!!) is vexing her, and she’s not exactly hitting her word count goals.

In fact, for the first time ever as she grapples with the onset of menopause and the massive disruption it’s causing to her life – and how, infuriatingly she can’t even voice her discomfort and anger because #reasons – she’s not managing to write much of anything; well, that is until her video goes viral and suddenly everybody wants to hear from her, thirty-something men suddenly find her wildly attractive, and she might just need to fly to L.A. to see her childhood bestie Carol who’s maybe found The One.

So there’s a LOT going on and menopause therefore is like a bomb going off, complicating already complex situations, a burden made all the worse because Agatha feels she can’t even talk about it with someone as close to her as Luke, a weird state of affairs that Agatha both accepts and does that and which leads to some very funny and quite poignant moments throughout Queen Bee.

I should stop slow-cooking in useless nostalgia and sentimentality. I should put down my pen and close this stupid notebook and just barge in there.

I will in a bit.

Any moment now …

While Queen Bee does tilt most definitely its appeal towards women with its celebration of friendship and family and how the invisibility of turning older is possibly more burdensome than some of the physical conditions that go along with it, it’s a wake-up call to anyone who has ever felt, specifically those on all the artificially demarcated margins which society’s delights in putting in imprisoning and silencing place, that they are lost and not heard in a world defined and run by cisgender middle-aged white men.

Rather than rail in furious anger, although god knows Queen Bee is not afraid to let its fury fly and to gloriously liberating and affirming effect, what this novel does so well is use humour to devastatingly good, message amplifying effect.

It’s also releasingly honest about so many things we won’t or don’t talk about, challenging us to ask why that is, and to talk about it anyway because there is nothing to be lost and everything to be gained, not least a renewed sense of self worth and the validity of our own lives.

Reading Queen Bee, which is funny, insightful and beautifully empathetic and grounded, is to feel like finally you can talk, that all those taboo things we’re told are out of bounds for discussion are in fact ripe and ready to be explored and pulled apart, and that when we’re brave enough, or just exhausted to do that, that so many good and healing things will happen, which, while they might not instantly make things better, start to the ball rolling ending to that end and improve our lives on the way there.

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