Book Review: Eternity Leave by Simon Kettlewell

When someone says ‘Would you like to read a book my friend’s written?’ it’s a bit concerning. What if it’s really rubbish – how can you not offend? Anyway – my friend described this as a semi autobiographical novel by one of her friends, who has 4 lovely kids, and it is from a Dad’s point of view, and kind of like the ‘Why Mummy‘ series. So I thought I’d give it a go.

I need not have worried – it is brilliant!

Here’s the blurb:

ETERNITY LEAVE:
A MUST READ FOR ANY PARENT…
FOUR CHILDREN. ONE MAN. HOW HARD CAN IT BE?…
Dear Chloe, Emma, Ruby, and Ollie,
‘I am applying for the position you haven’t advertised, has no specific job description and no hope of fiscal reward. I am applying because I have this misguided belief that it will look like it does on the cover photo of ‘The Complete Guide to Childcare’ where everyone appears relaxed and bright-eyed, not knackered, irascible or covered in snot.
Armed with a pristine copy of ‘The Complete Guide to Childcare’, ambitions to be the next literary giant and live off the grid, what could possibly go wrong?
‘Five minutes after Brigit’s maternity leave ended I realised the magnitude of my error. I was now the sole carer for two six-month old children who thought the hands smearing yoghurt over their faces belonged to somebody else, and a two-year old who walked for five steps and decided it wasn’t for her.’
I crashed into a world of mainly strong, resourceful, resilient women, a mountain of nappies to rival Kilimanjaro and a widening gap where my self-esteem used to reside.’
I am a man. I soon discovered this was not an excuse…’

The book is written from the point of view of the narrator – but you never find out his name. It’s very cleverly written in that way – he’s either Brigit Wheeler’s partner (not husband!) or Chloe, Emma, Ruby and Ollie’s Dad. This is very much in keeping with how he feels about his life.

Each chapter is either ‘now’ when the children are teenagers or ‘before’ as the children are babies and new ones are being born. And each chapter has a fact as a sub heading – kind of like Bridget Jones’s diary but with less fags or concern about his weight – such as:

Fact: The volume of Calpol administered, 4 litres
or
Fact: Number of baby wipes, 134,000

Both time periods had brilliant reference points that I totally ‘got’ (we have a teenage son who complains about the ‘laggy’ internet, and a teenage daughter who worked out the likelihoods of different driving test routes – and equally the memories of Tumble Tots and parent and toddler group singing came flooding back).

The village and classroom politics was really well observed – and the Mum guilt that Brigit experiences, because she’s out being an NHS bigwig in the local hospital every day, was also brilliantly portrayed. Tony Blair is quoted a couple of times for saying that running the country was easier than being a stay at home Dad – and my husband would concur, albeit running a construction company rather than the country. He said this when the kids were little – and the recent ‘joy’ of home schooling has only strengthened this belief!!

There were also similarities with our lives as we also have 4 kids – and similarly 3 girls and a boy, although in a different order, and no multiples here. I remember being asked on holiday, when the youngest was tiny, how on earth we coped with 4 kids. The eldest – then 8 years old – said dead pan ‘we have a nanny‘ – in our case an employed nanny – not a 7 year old from up the road like Lucy Harper. We also have a ridiculously vicious cockerel – although ours is called Oscar not Roy – but they appear to have been cut from the same cloth. (I also hadn’t realised cockerels weren’t vital to egg production when we first got chickens – we are similarly failing small holders as well).

The book describes the relentlessness of being a stay at home parent brilliantly. I was once asked if I was a stay at home Mum, to which I replied ‘God no, I’d kill one of them’ – ironic that the question had been asked by a paramedic as we were being blue lighted to A&E with a small child with a head injury spurting blood!

Throughout the book I was nodding along in agreement, laughing at how true to life it was – and in the final few chapters crying. I found the end really moving in lots of different ways – which was a bit of a surprise to be honest.

There are A LOT of ‘Mummy’ books on the market – some, like the ‘Why Mummy……’ series are brilliant – but some really seem to be band wagon jumping (you can imagine a publisher thinking ‘this Mummy Blogger has loads of social media followers, let’s get her to bang out a book, that will sell well) and there’s an awful lot of dross – to the point that I stopped reading them. What sets this apart is firstly that it’s written from a male perspective, secondly that it covers the whole age range of children from birth to leaving home and finally – it’s really very well written.

It’s free on Kindle Unlimited – and only £1.99 if you need to pay for it – and it’s definitely worth half a coffee (especially when you can’t even go out for a coffee at the moment anyway!).

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