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Mental Disorders

by Allison Pearson
Knopf, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Oct 15th 2002

I Don't Know How She Does It

Kate Reddy and her husband Richard live in London and have two young children.  But Kate works in finance, as a hedge-fund manager (whatever that is), while he is an "ethical architect" (whatever that is).  She earns considerably more money than him, and also works much longer hours than him, often jetting off to New York at a moment’s notice, and getting business phone calls at every hour of the day or night.  She feels enormous guilt at missing her children’s important days, and she gets angry when Richard suggests that she should live a slower life.  He does not seem to understand that the demands of her job leave no room for relaxing or taking time off. Although Kate does what she can to meet her family’s needs, she is certain that, for her job at least, she has to choose between her work and her husband and children.  As the novel progresses, it becomes clearer to her what sacrifices she is making in the pursuit of her career. 

The best feature of Allison Pearson’s novel is its depiction of the difficulties faced by working mothers and the psychological pressures they face.  Kate Reddy is very aware of the fight for women’s rights that enabled women like her to compete for prestigious jobs, and she never questions the feminist cause.  But she balances it with the personal side of life and the value of family.  She does not write about a utopian future where men and women share equally in childcare; her setting is the present, where many men still find it difficult to give up traditional gender roles and have little incentive to do so, and where women feel torn between their careers and their personal lives.

Feminist readers may not be happy with Kate’s solution to this widespread dilemma, but it does at least exemplify the ideal that women should have the right to choose.  Along the way, readers are kept entertained by Pearson’s acerbic comments about modern life, the jokes shared between Kate and her women friends and the fast pace of the unfolding events.  Most of the people in the novel apart from Kate are not so well characterized—it's not clear for example whether we should think in the end that her husband Richard was right about her need to slow down, or whether he should bear a good deal of the responsibility for the problems in their marriage.   The writing is competent and straightforward, so even in its darker moments the book is a quick read. Emma Fielding reads the abridged audiobook very well, bringing the characters to life.

 

Link: Publisher's web page with RealAudio excerpt from audiobook

 

© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.