Catherine McNamara asks – does the object of desire always have to be a hot twenty-something?
We’ve all seen them: semi-naked gardeners toiling in the sun, attractive ski instructors with firm thighs, young science teachers with their loosened ties and roving eyes. How many times has one caught your eye? Hair tossed back on a crowded bus, or smirking from behind a bar as he mixes your drink. The beautiful young man, there for all to savour.
Are older women fundamentally like men, with a fixation for ripe flesh, toned bodies, silky perfect skin? Do we all desire a tryst with a thriving young body warm against our own?
Madonna famously said that men of her own age are boring. Now onto her second Twenty-Something after her divorce from Guy Ritchie, she says her current catch makes her feel young. Are we all to follow her post-menopausal comeback and embrace the sweetness of men just older than our sons?
In the wake of the Chick Lit wave of the 1990s we have had Hen Lit, Matron Lit, Hag Lit, and now Cougar Lit, as baby boomers grow older and seek heroines with whom they can identify. Characters who share the same qualms about body image, fidelity, divorce, teenagers, income, family estrangement. Or the complexity of childbirth at 45, or the minefield of dating after divorce or widowhood. Most of us know that time is running out: we are wearing down less pairs of heels; we are drinking Traminer before dinner rather than Mojitos in all-night clubs.
And though Madonna may have shifted parameters in terms of fitness and sexual appetite by crowning herself Queen of the Cougars, not all of us can walk around in fishnets or feel affinity with a heroine who writhes on a dancefloor. Essentially every Chick Lit novel, regardless of target market, concerns a rite of passage. Novels for 30+ women are busy with heels/rejection/careers/toddlers/cocktails/fashion – usually entangled with the quest for Mr. Right. However when a woman reaches 40 she has usually lived through all of this. Her choices do not only concern the quest for a soothing Mr. Right but, often, the remapping of an upended or a dissatisfying life.
In this way, an over-40 book must deliver more than tanned gardeners and ski instructors with thighs of steel. The mature reader wants this and more. A transition. Enriched self-knowledge. A laugh at the expense of a philandering ex-husband or self-obsessed young woman. A laugh in the face of a stretched botoxed face or a set of pneumatic breasts.
In The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy my heroine finds herself in Milan enjoying a grinding love affair with Federico, virile agronomist and merciless Italian language teacher. But is lust with a Twenty-Something enough? Well, yes and no – it is the classic stepping stone to self-awareness after the numb years of marriage. In fact, emboldened by the rediscovery of her body, Marilyn Wade begins to shape her life in a different and challenging culture, in a city she finds as cold as a Prada bag. In Milan she realises she may or may not find a job, a home for her teenagers, a knack for the language, or even a flawed-but-credible partner of her own age. The Twenty-Something proves to be a tasty Italian appetiser.
Afterwards, there’s no guarantee love will find my heroine – or any of us who remap our lives in foreign lands – but the mature Cougar Lit reader is assured of the colourful and tangible ride she deserves.
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and moved to Paris to study French, and ended up in Ghana running a bar. She is the author of The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy (released in April 2012 by Indigo Dreams Publishing UK) and wrote the children’s book Nii Kwei’s Day. Her story collection Pelt and Other Stories will be published in 2013. After many years in West Africa, Catherine now lives in northern Italy where she complains about the government, translates for a World War I Eco-museum and skis fanatically. She has great collections of African sculpture and Italian heels. Find out more about her books at the Indigo Dreams Bookshop at http://www.indigodreamsbookshop.com/#/catherine-mcnamara