Twenty per cent sexy

KARORI CONFIDENTIAL ($25, Luncheon Sausage Books) is a selection of Leah McFall’s award-winning Sunday columns, written since 2016 while sitting in her kitchen, located, as the sharp-eyed will have deduced, in the Wellington suburb of Karori.

In her introduction, McFall claims that she does not have “big-note opinions on red-button issues”. It’s true that the heart of the columns is McFall’s domestic circle: her house, children, marriage and friends, as well as her own personal irritations and interests. She tackles leak-proof knickers, Christmas catalogues in October, acceptable attire for the school gate, and the controversy of Meghan and Harry’s raisin-less wedding cake. She talks us through school trips and her own gastroscopy.

McFall is also a gifted humourist, and her turns of phrase make this a book to avoid reading in public, unless you’re fine with people seeing you laugh so hard you can’t breathe. Highlights include her renaming a certain time in a woman’s life “Peri-Peri Menopause, for old chooks who feel flame-grilled”, and feeling a connection with other married people “because they, too, know how it feels to pay $150 for a bridal posy of three peonies and some ranunculus”. Many will relate to her desire for underwear that “privileges breathability but is about twenty per cent sexy as well”.

Given the above, you might assume that these columns are nothing but amusing froth about first world problems. But despite McFall’s denial, there are deeper issues: post-natal depression, debilitating illness, imposter syndrome, societal pressures, power imbalances and loss. Even when investigating leak-proof gruts, McFall anchors each column with intelligent, philosophical observation, and there are many poignant and thought-provoking moments amongst the humour.

And though McFall does not place herself in the bold argumentative category of women, but more the kind who compliments babies and lets people merge in front of her in traffic, there is a strong streak of feminism.

What this collection shows is that our domestic lives are the centre from which greater concerns ripple out. Being a parent means thinking about what future our children will have, and what we’re doing to the world right now. Our homes can teach us how to prioritise people over things and appearances. Warm, sincere connections with family and friends may be our only true legacy. Depending on how we choose to look at it, the ordinary is all we need. That, and a bloody good laugh.

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© 2019 Catherine Robertson

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