Susie Nott-Bower’s debut novel, The Making of Her, is a meditation on contemporary media perceptions of ageing, menopause and celebrity. It sets out to question how television reflects the values of a globalised consumer culture and how, in its turn, influences attitudes concerning body-image, gendered identities and aesthetic perceptions.
These issues are mediated through the narratives of three protagonists: Clara, whose successful career in television editing is in jeopardy as she struggles to deal with both menopausal symptoms that sap her energy and the aggressively ambitious behaviour of a younger female contender, vying for position; Jo, an unhappily married woman whose confidence has been eroded by an emotionally abusive husband; and Pete, a reclusive, ageing rock star, coaxed out of post-career anonymity to participate, albeit reluctantly, in a celebrity TV show.
The novel’s pacing is slightly uneven, especially at the beginning and only after the first hundred pages or so does the narrative pick up momentum and engage the reader’s full attention. The three central characters are well-drawn and credible, even if several of the minor characters are rather one-dimensional “goodies” or “baddy” ego-driven careerists that populate modern ‘Medialand”.
The author observes closely the relentlessness of “dumbing-down” within television programmes and presents a clear picture of the “race to the bottom” in terms of programme-making, driven as they are more by ratings and rapidly decreasing viewer attention spans, than by creativity or complexity of approach. Clara’s attempts to resist the freak-show element that has crept into lifestyle documentaries are laudable, but they leave her at risk of losing her role in a TV company as the latter repositions itself to fit the market. Given the time-frame of the novel, Clara would have been progressing in her career throughout the 1980s and 90s, two important decades in television history, especially with the launch of Channel 4 whose aim was then to promote social diversity at a time where minority groups were making significant political gains. It is thus ironic that in the two decades following the 90s, television should have unnecessarily restricted its scope to a level of populism towards which Clara is clearly and justifiably contemptuous. This is the most powerful theme in the novel and Nott-Bower handles it with subtlety and wit.
Each of The Making of Her’s three protagonists undergoes a transformation as the novel progresses. These changes are physically and emotionally radical. As they struggle with broken relationships from their pasts, each one seeks a different method of resolution. Nott-Bower makes good use of the extreme makeover TV documentary format to question the inherent value of radically changing a woman’s physical appearance to build her confidence. Needless to say, real transformation must occur within. The author continues to develop that theme in the resolution she devises for the anguished rock star.
Nott-Bower has made an honest attempt to dissect important issues for women in today’s media and youth obsessed culture. The novel has more gravitas than Chick-Lit (though that is how it may be categorised by many booksellers), dealing as it does with the problem of a corporatised media. However, The Making of Her adopts a narrative that is compromised by Noughties idiom, which puts it in danger of dating very quickly.