Middle-age crisis

2011-06-22 00:00

IF you find yourself caught between concerns for the well-being of your parents and fears for your children’s future, then you are in the unenviable stage of middle age.

Finuala Dowling has written a gem of a book to comfort those of us living through this difficult stage. Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart finds the main character, Margot, caught up in a cycle of chores, caring for those dependent on her and work.

As a night-time radio-talk-show host, she has to dredge her radio persona up from the depths of exhaustion to deal with the strange breed of callers keen to phone in after midnight. When she returns home just before sunrise to her little house near Kalk Bay, all she longs for is her bed and sleep before her demanding household awakens. There’s Curtis, her gentle lover who may just be passing through. Then there’s Mr Morland, who spends his life in a psychic haze. And there’s her daughter Pia, breaking through puberty into adulthood, with all the complications that accompany this rite of passage.

To top it all, Margot’s aging mother, Zoe, once a famous and much-lauded author of a book called Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart, has full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. To complete the mix, there’s Leroy, an ex-husband who is incapable of earning money or keeping friends for long.

Margot’s life is never her own, except when she manages to escape for an early morning walk along the beach. This peace is threatened too, however, by thugs who prey on people as they pass the subways.

Dowling, in her simple rendering of events, uncovers remarkable depths of character in her creations. As life ticks by, Zoe’s book seems to hold the essence of comfort for her. As Margot rereads the original manuscript, she realises that the only way to live life is in the moments. Whether these moments are cleaning up dog poo — again — or cleaning up her mother’s or ex-husband’s messes, the secret of happiness seems to be in appreciating the details in all their messy glory.

Dowling’s characters are brilliantly drawn with as much intricate detail as a petit-point tapestry.

This is a delightful and comforting read for anyone who has tried to juggle her own needs with those of a family. Most especially, though, it is perfect for the home-maker who may very well be down-at-heart.

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