We know from the beginning that she eventually becomes a mother, but the journey along the way makes for fascinating reading. Her writing style tends towards excess. Frizzell gives an extraordinary amount of detail about everyday events. For the most part this works to bring us a fresh and heartfelt account of one woman trying to stay sane in the pursuit of something that everyone else around her seems to be able to do.
But these are tolerable annoyances and towards the end, where Frizzell writes frankly about the raw experience of maternity, the prose becomes fresh and incisive. Maybe that’s because she’s honestly writing about herself in this section, rather than offering herself as a stand-in everywoman. Unfortunately it’s also where the book stops because by positioning the panic years as singularly important — by suggesting that “huge things” cease to happen to us once our egg store has expired — Frizzell merely puts a fashionable new spin on the old idea that a woman is only as interesting as her reproductive potential.
Frizzell is at her best, however, when getting right under her own skin and digging out the twisted feelings of resentment, jealousy and shame that gnaw at so many women going through The Panic Years. She tells of how she howled with tears while watching the first dance at her best friend’s wedding and admits posting a glossed-up version of her child-free life to Instagram in the hope that exhausted new mothers would turn green with envy. Some women will shudder to see their darkest thoughts exposed so plainly on the page – but I imagine most will breathe a giant sigh of relief.
Frizzell is great on the stress — and grief — felt by single, childless women when their friends get married and become pregnant. She got so drunk at one friend's wedding that she heckled the speeches and decided not to drink any more. She even cycled 20 miles out of London — in a suit and bright orange high heels — to another wedding before smoking on the lawn and cycling the 20 miles home. Her troubles didn't end when she fell in love with a wonderful man. It turned out he didn't want children. Eventually she talked him round, but it was a tearful process.
Frizzell’s compassionate, compulsive prose fizzes with imaginative humour and metaphor (although her careful citation of every possible perspective makes for an excess of lists). Yet I question the book’s timing. If you’re involuntarily single and child-free in lockdown, it may stoke rather than assuage anxiety, the danger of all fertility-lit – a thriving mini-genre, from Emma Gannon’s Olive to Sheila Heti’s Motherhood and Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail, the book that first set off my biological alarm clock.