Book Review: The Second Half of Your Life

Posted on: 21 January 2011 by Alexander Hay

An often informative and helpful book is hobbled by its confusing the author with the reader.

Menopause can be a lonely, frightening experience - but also a personal one, which this book sometimes forgets.

"Sometimes it's hard to be a woman..." crooned Tammy Wynette, in that actually rather bleak song of hers. And it's true. Women earn less over their lifetimes, usually end up looking after the children, get orbitally bombarded with hormones once a month and then have to go through the menopause, where all those hormones that have been making their lives a misery finally take their leave (while continuing to make their lives a misery).

You know a subject is serious business when someone writes a 300 word tome on the subject, which ex-finance consultant Jill Shaw Ruddock just has in her new book, "The Second Half of Your Life". This is a sort of how-to text, with chapters covering everything from exercise and dieting to existential crises like death and the children finally buggering off.

In that sense, it's excellent, lucidly written with a great deal of useful detail and facts, not to mention so-sensible-you-can't-disagree advice on a wide range of areas. True, it has an almost shopping list approach with how it sets out some of its survival tips and advice, not to mention useful things to buy like underwear that holds your stomach in. Yet this is sometimes the best way to set out information and you can't really fault a book for wanting to communicate clearly. 

No, the problem is that the book is of its time - not the menopause, but the year 2011. Given to excursions into therapy culture, the book does sometimes lapse into wince-worthy homilies like "will there be a rainbow after the storm?" Or an attempt to suck middle aged men into the over-medicalised world women sometimes find themselves. Apparently, men now go through the 'andropause', though the 'symptoms' - like falling asleep after dinner, questioning one's role in life and having a decreased sex drive may simply be patholigizations of the archetypical grumpy old git, symptoms of which sometimes emerge as early as 13. (Or in my case, 6.)

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your point of view, but it's worth remembering that a lot we take for granted in regards to gender is as much based on how we are conditioned by the world around us as by our gender and genetics. There is always the chance your hubby isn't going through a 'bad time', but is just a bit of a jackass. 

Likewise, it's all about the reader, or rather the author projecting herself onto the reader. It is wrong-headed to present the solely personal as general fact, like Ruddock does when she tells us that women should play hard to get, listen to their mothers and be right stingy cows when it comes to leaving the kiddies an inheritance.

This may or may not have benefited Ruddock in her time, depending on how you view it, but it might cause a lot of harm for other women. The book is outdated in some ways too - it's a bit rich to preach to women about empty nest syndrome, for example, when their children are still sleeping on the sofa at 28 because they can't afford a flat. Times change, which is something an over-reliance on one's own experiences sometimes blinds us to.

Then there are other questions - how does this book relate to women who haven't come from monied, American backgrounds like Ruddock? Who are from different ethnic backgrounds, or who live on council estates? Class, race and, for that matter, sexuality aren't addressed much in the book either. Ruddock may have the problem that her potential readers only resemble her in terms of being menopausal or post-menopausal women. The rest is up for grabs.

With these caveats in mind, however, it would still be wrong to dismiss what the book does well, which is to give some solid answers to often difficult and distressing questions. The thing to remember is that each woman, and so each menopause, is different. As a general guide, "The Second Half of Your Life" succeeds - it's the specifics where problems begin to emerge.

You can purchase this book from all good bookshops priced £12.99. Alternatively you can purchase it from Amazon for £6.49.

Have you read it? What were your thoughts? Leave a comment below or discuss in the forums



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Alexander Hay

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