I adored this debut memoir about a voyage into single-motherhood, when motherhood was the last thing on the author's itinerary. When she discovers she is pregnant, Heawood is leading a footloose, freelance life interviewing celebrities in LA. Her account of what happens next is freewheeling, hugely funny (there's a particularly brilliant story about a visit to an LA gynaecologist) and genuinely soul-mining. A "Best Book of 2020" for the Evening Standard and the Observer, it already counts Caitlin Moran and Dolly Alderton among its fans.
The book’s title refers to the games Heawood would play with her daughter when she was incapacitated from the night before. But maybe there’s another kind of “hangover” going on here: that of the excruciating process of dragging your previous self into a new way of being. In some ways, this memoir is as much about the author growing up, and growing as a person, as it is about her daughter. Heawood not only realises her new responsibilities, she embraces and relishes them: “I want to be the safe place my daughter turns to at night and wakes up to in the morning.” She isn’t the first to find out that parenthood isn’t always a Richard Curtis movie, but her unvarnished take on doing it alone is a must-read for anyone out there, floundering, scared they’re doing it wrong. The writing is great in The Hungover Games, but the humour and honesty are even better.
Later she drives her inebriated friends home from a party without a driving licence, or indeed more than two driving lessons. Some might shake their heads at a pregnant woman’s reckless behaviour, but Heawood is refreshingly unapologetic – weeks after Coachella, she even downs a glass of wine to recover from a panic attack, and while on medication for a chemically induced birth, she leaves the hospital for a trip to the deli. Who are we to judge?
The Hungover Games documents a six-year period in Heawood’s life where everything – her career, her body, her imagined future – turned upside down. Readers of her columns will be familiar with her adventures as a single mother adapting to her strange new existence. Here, she writes about pregnancy, childbirth and the early years of motherhood primarily as a comedy in which she is the hapless goofball, crashing from one indignity to the next. But woven into the sprightly prose and self-mocking humour are moments of painful truth and profundity... Outrageous anecdotes frequently make way for poignancy and reflection, however. Most affecting is the tenderness with which she writes about her daughter who becomes her “diminutive partner in crime, and in beauty, and in fart jokes”. Life may not have turned out the way the author imagined, but her book is far from a chronicle of regret.
The market has been flooded in recent years with memoirs by zeitgeisty female writers suppposedly popular with millennials; few pass the “why do I care” test. Yet, thanks to Heawood’s way with humour and her knack for getting herself into screwball scrapes, The Hungover Games sustains. Occasionally, in the later parts of the book, her more whimsical vignettes on east London life can feel like padding. Nevertheless, it is a charming, diverting, indie flick of a memoir, a joy to gulp down in the garden on a sunny afternoon.
The Los Angeles sections unfold in the Gwyneth Paltrow heartland, and Heawood satirises the types that thrive there, who look “natural” with the help of $100 skincare regimes. There are a few celebrity cameos. She interviews Goldie Hawn and Jodie Foster, who come across as kind, but then Heawood knows how to play the Hollywood publicity machine, “kiss arse” and write in a way that’s sharp enough to impress but not offend. At another point she asks an LA gynaecologist about masturbating while pregnant. The doctor can’t bring herself to say clitoris, only that her clients “use their vibrators on the front part”. It’s brilliant. Heawood has a good sense of humour, but is never bitter or cruel. Above all, she has written a tender book about parental love that she and her daughter should be proud of.