Sunday 16 December 2018

Why Mummy Swears review: Despite Laugh-Out-Loud Moments, Mummy Could Lay Off The All-Caps

Fiction: Why Mummy Swears, Gill Sims, Harper Collins, €18.20

Why Mummy Swears
Why Mummy Swears

Sophie White

Why Mummy Swears is the second novel from blogger-turned-novelist, Gill Sims and the sequel to her bestselling debut, Why Mummy Drinks. The books star the characters from her popular Facebook page and blog, Peter and Jane. In the first book, the titular 'Mummy' aka Ellen, overhauls her life and has an idea for a hit app. Also written in diary format (calling to mind Bridget Jones's Diary), the sequel charts another year in Ellen's life. Disillusioned with her new set-up as a freelance app developer, she wades back into the workplace via a trendy start-up.

Despite contemporary touches - pithy one-liners like "olive oil is so passe" - at many points the stereotypes (the painful perfect mums, snarky slummy mummies and checked-out dads) are just too tired to revive. This is a shame because, as the year unfolds, buried in tiresome PTA meetings - as interesting to read about as they are to attend - and much abusing of the All Caps, Sims explores some prickly and highly-relevant themes.

On the topic of discrimination women face in the workplace, and especially those with children, Sims is unequivocal. In a clever device both comedic and revelatory, Sims has Ellen opt to lie to her co-workers about her status as a working mother, instead leading them to believe she doesn't have children. "Women are treated differently and men aren't when they become parents," Ellen's young step mum explains the infuriating double standard.

The other knotty issue Sims confronts is the emotional load many women carry in contemporary marriages. Ellen's husband, Simon is your textbook feckless husband, apparently unaware that dishwashers require emptying. While it's a well-worn trope, it is a conflict that still remains at the core of many marriages.

Over the course of the book, the relationship deteriorates from resentment over cleaning to separate bedrooms. Ellen and Simon's third act epiphany - that marriage is hard work and complacency can creep in - would perhaps land better if we'd seen any evidence of affection between them in the first place. However Sims, like her characters, appears to be allergic to sentimentality of any kind.

On her blog, Sims draws stick figures with captions in the style of the Ladybird Early Reading series. The clash between the child-like tone and the nihilistic (and very funny) depiction of contemporary parenting works. "Mummy is getting Peter and Jane ready for the fireworks display… Daddy is ready. Daddy has told Mummy... 47 times that he is ready, and now he is standing by the door, jangling his keys. Mummy has murder in her heart."

Making the leap from Facebook to long-form is a tricky one, recently nailed in spectacular style by Irish authors, Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen with Oh My God What A Complete Aisling. The secret was arguably the depth of their central character. Aisling, like Ellen, was born from one-liners but expertly developed into an endearing and empathetic protagonist, Ellen feels flat and her world lacks richness. Why Mummy Swears ultimately falls between snark and heart, never quite recreating the pitch dark humour of her original blog, nor does it feel rounded enough to make us really care all that much what happens to mummy, daddy and the "moppets".

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