July 6, 2012
This is a highly enjoyable, expertly written and thought-provoking work of contemporary fiction that looks at the reality of the post women’s liberation world. Women wanted the freedom to have a career, but the bottom line is that men can’t have the babies, so what women actually got was the burden of juggling two jobs–one to earn money and the other to bring up the children—often without the satisfaction of doing either job well. Karen Bell raises these kinds of issues in a delightfully entertaining read about a very real and easy to relate to woman.
Suze Hall is in danger of loosing her job, thanks to a reshuffle at work. A work mate who hates Suze as much as Suze hates her has been promoted and is now Suze’s boss. The company has been taken over and the stakes and workload raised. Wanda, the boss, gives Suze a task that is so out of her area of expertise that she is clearly meant to fail in order to give a good reason for Wanda to fire her.
At the same time, Suze’s husband, Bob, is leaving her and the three kids for a six-month sabbatical down under, and her best friend, Marcia, is involved with a new boyfriend, so Suze is alone with the kids. As well as this, David, the gorgeous artist who broke her heart at college has coincidentally popped back into her life and has what she desperately needs to keep her job. Suze is forced to confront old demons—her feelings for David—and new ones—negotiating office politics to avoid being sidelined by her career woman boss who is keen to make Suze feel inadequate and unnecessary.
The issues are serious but the writing is light-hearted. The characters are delightful and very real. Suze goes through a kind of midlife crisis where she questions everything about herself and her relationships. The story raises all her insecurities, ones shared by woman of all ages throughout the western world, and her imagination throws up some romance novel options in her renewed relationship with David. They could lead her on a dangerous path but she’s smart enough to keep her cool.
One of my favourite bits is where Suze bemoans the fact that a woman no longer has the luxury of growing old, fat and respected—a kind of reward for her years of childrearing and the maturity and wisdom that comes from it. This would be a mature mother’s status in a matriarchal society and that’s how the story relates to elephants—not size, matriarchal society.
I recommend Walking with Elephants to every woman and I give it 5 stars and a place on the Awesome Indies listing.