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Book review: Losing It by Helen Lederer

Ten years ago this coming August, I went on a week’s Novel Writing course at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre. It was a pretty magical week: both in terms of what it did for my writing and because of the fantastic group of writers I met while there. One of those was Helen Lederer whose first full-length novel, Losing It, is published today by Pan Macmillan.

So, now that I’ve disclosed how we know each other, let’s talk about the book. Here’s what it’s about:

Millie was at one time quite well known for various TV and radio appearances. However, she now has no money, a best friend with a better sex life than her, a daughter in Papua New Guinea and too much weight in places she really doesn’t want it.

When she’s asked to be the front woman for a new diet pill, she naively believes that all her troubles will be solved. She will have money, the weight will be gone, and maybe she’ll get more sex.

If only life was really that easy. It doesn’t take her long to realize it’s going to take more than a diet pill to solve her never-ending woes…

Losing It is the first book in what Helen hopes will become Mid Lit: novels for women who have outgrown chick lit and aren’t quite ready to settle for reading grey lit. (Helen thinks she also may have coined that term, by the way!) It’s a book full of witty and often biting observations about a woman, the world she inhabits and the people in it, that had me laughing out loud on the day I read it. And yes, I did gobble it up in one go while sitting on the sofa one Sunday. I know Helen won’t thank me for saying that because it took her much longer than that to write it. But once I started reading Losing It, I couldn’t stop until I had seen Millie through this difficult period in her life. (When you read Losing It, you’ll discover that she’s not the only one having difficult periods!)

Losing It centres around Millie and because it is very much ALL about her – she can be pretty self-absorbed especially at the beginning of the novel – Millie dominates the book. She’s such a great character that some of the others have a hard time asserting themselves and were more of a chorus to Millie’s daily dramas. It would have been easy for Millie to become a comedic monster over the course of the novel but Helen avoids that by putting the joke as much, if not mostly, on Millie herself. Millie may sometimes be biting and very close to the mark in her observations of others but she is also highly critical of herself. Her own worst enemy, if you like. This leads to Millie getting herself embroiled in painfully humiliating situations. But each time she fails or suffers a setback, she never gives up on life or gives up trying, including at those things which she perhaps shouldn’t have been trying in the first place.

I hope I wouldn’t do half the things that Millie does but I couldn’t help rooting for her and hoping that she would come through everything with a modicum of dignity left intact. She is desperate, behaves desperately but she is also desperately funny. And oh, so very flawed and human. Her thoughts run in every direction and we’re happily privy to them, while her friends and family and business contacts thankfully only get the highlights. And it’s this that makes Losing It so funny and why it worked so well for me. I enjoyed hearing the unedited version of someone’s commentary on their life and everyone in it.

Losing It made me laugh. Big belly laughs. It made me laugh at Millie, at myself and at the crazy things we put ourselves through, and the stupid pressures to which we fall subject. But it also made me think about those very same things: what we sometimes do to get a job, a date, a drink, or simply some notice, or validation. Cloaked in humour and very visual jokes, Helen makes some acute observations about a woman of a certain age in today’s society. Learning to laugh about that might just be the best way of dealing with it all when it spirals out of control and it could help us become more accepting of ourselves and our lives, so we can concentrate on what’s actually important.

I hope that I don’t have to wait another ten years for the next book from Helen Lederer. That’s one thing I wouldn’t find very funny. But Losing It. Well, that is something very funny indeed.

You can listen to Helen reading an extract from Losing It here:

Helen Lederer is an actress, author, comedian, journalist, public speaker and voice over artist. Her debut novel, Losing It, is published today by Pan Macmillan and is available online from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Book Depository, Hive and Waterstones

I’ll be interviewing Helen here on Tuesday 17th February as part of the blog tour for Losing It, so be sure to come back then. There’ll also be a signed copy of Losing It up for grabs.  

 

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