Ever wanted to kill your beloved kids? Shag your psychotherapist? Take revenge on the Floozy lusting after your husband? Write a nasty email to your Boss from Hell? You are not alone! Jo de Villiers, the delightful heroine of Pamela Power’s debut novel Ms Conception (Penguin, 2015), knows exactly how you feel. Soapie scriptwriter, wife, mother of two, daughter and friend, Jo, like so many women before her, is trying to juggle domestic and professional responsibilities without going insane in the process.
Pamela Power is not afraid of dark truths. Motherhood is not for sissies. It can ravage your body, play havoc with your mind, put strain on your relationships, and ruin your chances of getting ahead in your career: “Nobody ever warns you that, much as you love your children, there will be times when you hate them just as fervently. And that the guilt you feel for being such a useless, inadequate excuse for a mother will sometimes completely overwhelm you.” But Ms Conception with its brilliant title and wonderful cover is anything but a dark book. Power does not shy away from afterbirths, baby poos, or cracked nipples. Nor from tackling other serious topics such as peer pressure, HIV, and infidelity, but she does it all with such a mischievous sense of humour that one can’t help smiling on every page. In fact, my introduction to the book was via a friend who picked up my copy, started reading before me, and chuckled every few paragraphs. I felt exactly like that when it was my turn and devoured the book in two sittings. It ends with a ‘delicious’ bang and a recipe which will make you squirm!
Pamela Power made me think of the way difficult issues were handled in my family. We would sit around the dinner table and tease each other about the things that bothered us or tell some funny, seemingly unrelated, meandering stories which would illustrate our worries. It might not have been the ideal way of confronting conflict but it had its uses as it was an easy way of avoiding direct offence. And yet, despite having perfected this skill while growing up and using it in my early experiments in writing, I am hopeless at writing humour. I have endless admiration for writers who approach tough subjects with a light touch and make one laugh. Power is definitely one of them.
Ms Conception also reminded me strongly of another local novel, Emma van der Vliet’s Thirty Second World (Penguin, 2013), which paints a similarly humorous picture of a woman’s attempts to survive modern motherhood. Some of the most striking and strangely hilarious descriptions in both books involve breastfeeding and breast pumps and I am tempted to lump them into a new genre: ‘breast pump fiction’. There is something liberating and empowering about reading novels which reveal the often mundane everyday horrors of being a woman without batting an eyelid while cracking jokes at the same time.
Power dedicated Ms Conception to “childminders everywhere”, stating “You deserve a raise!” Women – and men who know what it’s like and do their share! – are the superheroes of our daily lives. And Pamela Power is definitely a writer to watch.