It might sound like the opening line of an ‘oldie’ joke but reaching a landmark crossroads is not always a laughing matter for four friends unsure of their prospects in the brave new world of the ‘third age.’
Author of the groundbreaking 1992 novel Having It All, which captured the dilemma of the working mother, Maeve Haran, now 64 but ‘still 19 in her head,’ sets her sights on a new reading market... a deliciously irreverent novel for sixty-something women tired of girlish chick-lit but not yet ready for Barbara Cartland.
The Time of Their Lives homes in gleefully on Haran’s own contemporaries, the much-maligned baby boomers, the infamous ‘Me Generation’ who ripped up the rules and did it their way, the promiscuous ones who enjoyed ‘the heady days after the Pill and before Aids.’
Faced with the depressing realities of rapidly advancing years but determined not to take ageism lying down, their dilemma is summed up by one of Haran’s characters: ‘At my age my mother looked like the Queen... we may be old but we don’t feel old, that’s what makes us different.’
Once a month, pals Claudia, Sal, Ella and Laura enjoy drinks and a catch-up at a smart London wine bar but this time they are celebrating 45 years of friendship.
They are typical of their generation – outspoken, vigorous and fun-loving – and they know each other’s lives inside out including careers, husbands, lovers, children, hopes and fears.
For them, sixty is the new forty, they are the Woodstock generation, they have no plans to wear twinsets or perm their hair. They shop at H&M and know that ‘the only way you can tell a woman’s age these days is to look at her husband!’
Singleton Sal is fighting back the hardest, declaring war on ‘body fat, laughter lines and any clothing in baggy linen.’ She has spent a lifetime building a career as a successful magazine editor but the owners’ thrusting new management style is threatening her comfortable
existence, and her job.
French teacher Claudia loves her urban existence but husband Don is hankering after retiring early and downsizing to a rural idyll near Claudia’s elderly parents in Surrey. The thought of the country sends shivers down her spine and as for retirement, it’s ‘something you did
before going to bed, not with the rest of your life.’
Ella’s husband died in a train accident three years ago and she’s still living with her memories in the smart home they bought and transformed when they married. She’s ready to try something different but refuses to be coerced into moving by a daughter eager to get
her hands on some of her inheritance. But when change arrives, it’s not quite what Ella had imagined.
Laura can’t help feeling smug. She seems to be the only one truly happy with her life. She and her husband are the archetypal ‘soulmates.’ They love their home and the two children they waited so long to have. When she’s tripped up by the oldest trick in the book, it’s doubly hard to bear.
Suddenly the lives of the four friends are far from what they had expected... the generation that wanted to change the world didn’t bargain on getting old.
Billed as ‘the must-read novel for anyone who wasn’t born yesterday,’ The Time of Their Lives is a warm, wise and wonderfully witty celebration of the bonds of sisterhood and a lifetime of shared experiences.
Haran has her finger firmly on the pulse of the fears, foibles and feisty doggedness of the generation who believe ‘ageing isn’t inevitable any more, it’s a choice.’
But this is not a novel full of impossible flights of fictional fantasy; it’s a life-affirming tale grounded in harsh truths and an entertaining cynicism born from decades of suffering life’s slings and arrows.
Through a clever blend of comedy, pathos and reality, ageing is portrayed as both a melancholic intimation of mortality and a time of renewed optimism and ambition.
Haran has conjured up a magical box of tricks, a paean to the Swinging Sixties survivors and a book that every misbehaving baby boomer will hug to her heart.
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)