I’m delighted to welcome Katarina West, author of The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice to Linda’s Book Bag today. Being of a certain age, I found Katerina’s guest post today highly relevant!
The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice is available for purchase here. As part of the celebrations, Katerina is also running a giveaway which you can enter at the bottom of this blog post.
The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice
Meet Irene Nylander, a frumpy housewife from Finland … and a yo-yo dieter. She feels trapped in an unhappy marriage, looking after her domineering mother-in-law and living vicariously through romantic movies.
Meanwhile, in Florence, Mimi Kavanough’s star is rising. She has the body of a Barbie princess, the iron will of an army sergeant – and Hollywood in her sights.
On her fiftieth birthday, Irene discovers her husband is having an affair. Devastated, she prays for a way out: she wants to die.
In heaven, a mischievous angel called Aaron hears her prayers. He decides to make Irene and Mimi swap bodies.
How will the two women cope with their unexpected, and very different, second lives? And will Aaron’s meddling get him evicted from heaven? What will happen if he has to transform into a human being and live on Earth?
Four Weddings and a Funeral and Young Lovers:
can middle-aged women have boyfriends half their age?
A Guest Post by Katarina West
Last summer was a hectic wedding season in Florence, where I live with my husband and ten-year-old son: four couples got married under the relentless glare of the Tuscan sun.
And mind you, weddings in Italy are a serious affair… Oh yes, they are. Foreigners think that all Mediterranean weddings are carefree, cheerful affairs, the equivalents of a lively country-dance or a tarantella, but this couldn’t be further from the truth in the elegant and stiff Florence, where centuries of socializing have transformed weddings and other gatherings into elaborate minuets with eight-course lunches or dinners. So not exactly your big, fat Greek wedding – except that the calorie consumption is the same, which means that after four weddings in one summer you’ve got a serious bikini crisis going on for the rest of the season.
Anyhow. What made last summer’s weddings even more delicate was the fact that I was still writing my latest novel, The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice.
A mixture of chick lit and fantasy, it tells the story of a frumpy, middle-aged housewife from Finland who changes bodies with an oh-ah gorgeous Hollywood celebrity… And obviously, the latter is aged twenty-five. And obviously, the fifty-something housewife, now possessing the body of the likes of – say – Kim Kardashian, falls in love with a Justin Timberlake lookalike, who (obviously) is not many years older than thirty.
So, let’s recap: a frumpy housewife, going on fifty-one. Dating a Justin Timberlake clone, and looking like Kim Kardashian. Except no one knows that it’s not her body.
How’s that for a relationship crisis?
But the curious thing was that all of my girlfriends (who, just like me, are closer to the Finnish housewife’s age, rather than Kim Kardashian’s) were passionate about my heroine’s fate in a way that they’d never been with my previous fictional protagonists.
Yes, you heard me. With The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice, things were different. This wasn’t just a chick lit novel. No, this was personal. This was a fifty-something woman with cellulite and varicose veins. Snatching a thirty-something hunk.
This was… oh my God… political.
Yes, that’s it. Talking with my girlfriends I sometimes felt that I’d got a promotion. I was no longer a mere novelist penning down their next beach read. No, I was nothing more and nothing less than the Instagram age’s Karl Marx and Joseph Engels, breathing life into a new political manifesto. Everywoman’s manifesto.
A manifesto about middle-aged woman and thirty-something men.
And obviously, the men look exactly like Justin Timberlake.
Can you now understand my delicate position last summer, especially as we all met regularly at those long and calorie-rich weddings? We all sat at the same table. We rarely talked about kids, work, hobbies or summer plans.
No, for all they wanted to know was how my novel was coming along. And whether that frumpy housewife was still dating the Justin Timberlake doppelganger.
And if that could truly happen in real life.
‘Girls,’ said a forty-something stay-at-home mum during the first wedding. ‘Listen to me. It’s a question of a car. I mean, it’s a statistical fact that when men have a midlife crisis, they get rid of their first wives and buy a Porsche. That’s how they get that gorgeous twenty-something girlfriend.’
I looked at her, understanding. Her husband, a lawyer, drove a shiny Audi SUV so big that whenever she borrowed her husband’s car to do the school run the access road to the school was blocked for a good twenty minutes.
Her car, on the other hand, was a run-down Nissan the license plates of which had been registered in the last millennium. Not to mention that the inside had a wonderful patina of ice cream stains and candy wrappers. And dog and child vomit.
Though maybe she had a point. Because would Justin Timberlake ever sit in a car like that?
Our conversation evolved a few weeks later, when we met at the second wedding. It was the height of the presidential primaries in the United States, and all my girlfriends talked about was Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Or, no. Correct that. Because there was someone still more interesting than Donald and Hillary.
It was my middle-aged Finnish housewife. And the question if she could keep on dating that thirty-something hunk.
‘Politics,’ one of my best friends said. She was a university researcher – she should know. ‘Girls – study men in politics. Look what happens to them when they gain even a modicum of power. Look at Trump. Or Hollande. Or Clinton… I mean, Bill Clinton. Or even the goddam JFK. What unites all these men?’
A subdued silence settled into our table. ‘I know,’ someone sighed. ‘It is just so unfair.’
Someone laughed humourlessly. ‘Of course, we Italians are leading in this field,’ she said. ‘After all, Berlusconi outwitted everyone with his harem of showgirls.’
‘Bunga bunga,’ a fifty-two-year-old brunette added, in a rather bleak tone.
Another silence. ‘Even so,’ my researcher friend continued, ‘could you imagine women doing anything similar? Imagine Angela Merkel boasting in a video clip that she can grab any private parts of her male assistants… and then later on dismissing it all as aerobics lesson locker-room talk? Or Theresa May having her very own Lewinsky affair in Downing Street?’
Everyone turned to look at me. ‘Don’t you dare let that Justin Timberlake dump the Finnish housewife,’ the stay-at-home mum said to me. ‘This is a question of rights. Human rights.’
Ouch. Suddenly I felt that if I made the wrong plot move, half of my girlfriends would never speak to me again.
The discussion was more pragmatic – even cynical – at the third wedding, and this was simply because we had a new woman sitting at our table. A boutique owner in the chic parts of Florence, she was a bona fide fashionista. And was dating a man eight years her junior.
‘Oh, come on, girls,’ she said. ‘You really think a frumpy housewife could date a Justin Timberlake lookalike? Give me a break!’
‘Men do it,’ someone said stubbornly.
‘And Madonna did it,’ the fashionista replied. ‘And Demi Moore. But you know what Madonna and Demi possess, apart from money and fame?’
No one said anything.
‘They both have bodies most twenty-somethings would die to have,’ she continued. ‘And it takes an entire war of attrition to get a body like that. You must suffer. You must sweat. You must starve.’
Suddenly none of us was hungry any more.
‘Anyone care to have my dessert?’ my researcher friend asked in a tiny voice. ‘I’m… er… on a diet.’
The Madonna-cum-Demi talk was a game changer, and during the fourth and the final wedding our attitude was hardened to say the least.
‘Money talks,’ the fashionista said. ‘If you’ve got money, you can have all the Justin Timberlakes you want. Even if you look like a walking, Botox-ed zombie. With liver stains on your hands.’
‘Who was that superbly rich woman who died some ten years ago?’ the stay-at-home mum asked apropos of nothing. ‘That New York based hotel billionaire? The one who was notorious for her meanness?’
‘Ah, yes. The Queen of Mean. Leona Helmsley.’
‘So, did she look like Demi Moore?’
Silence. ‘No,’ someone finally says. Slowly. ‘She actually looked rather nasty.’
Another silence. Everyone’s thinking.
‘And did she, you know… date younger men?’
There is unmistakable hopefulness in the stay-at-mum’s voice as she utters these words. We all turn to look at an American expat married to an Italian.
She looks at us. She smiles apologetically. Then, eventually, she shrugs.
‘Sorry, girls,’ she says. ‘But Leona Helmsley was into… lapdogs. And when she died, her Maltese became the richest dog in the world.’
None of us know what to say.
‘And the most hated, too,’ the American woman continues. ‘Trouble was the dog’s name.’
When we are back home from the fourth and the last wedding, I look at my Bergamasco shepherd dog with new, fresh eyes. For, let’s face it, that dog has never asked for much.
All he wants is a little bit of kibbles and affection.
Plus, after a handful of dog obedience lessons, he comes to me when he must come to me, and he stops barking when he must stop barking.
And… He is four years old.
Which converted to human years means that he is exactly the same age as my Justin Timberlake lookalike in The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice.
It is then that the truth hits me.
I’m middle-aged. I’m no Demi Moore.
I drive a car that is a far cry from your average shiny Porsche.
But still, there is a thirty-something male who follows my each and every step.
Who would give his dear life for me.
Now who said it again, that women can’t have it all?
(Who indeed? – Thanks Katarina from all we middle aged women!)
About Katarina West
Katarina West was born in Helsinki, Finland, into a bilingual family.
She spent time travelling in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and went on to study at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London and the European University Institute in Florence, where she completed a PhD in political science and published a book based on it, Agents of Altruism. During those student years she started work as a journalist, and continued writing for various Finnish magazines and newspapers for over ten years, writing on various topics from current events and humanitarian issues to celebrity interviews and short stories. She also briefly worked as a university lecturer on humanitarian issues in Northern Italy.
Katarina lives in an old farmhouse in Chianti with her husband and son and when not writing, she is fully immersed in Tuscan country life, from jam-making and olive-picking to tractor maintenance.
You can follow Katarina on Twitter, visit her website and find her on Facebook.
For your chance to enter Katerina’s giveaway to win one of 10 e-copies of The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice, click here.