This is former nurse Christie Watson’s memoir of midlife, in all its messy, turbulent glory. I found it immersive, entertaining and, well, terrifying. Watson started her perimenopause at the age of 42, brought on early she says, possibly because of decades of working night shifts as an intensive care nurse in the children’s ward. No one with a job like that could ever be accused of weakness, so the fact that she is bulldozed both cognitively and physically by the side effects of the menopause does make you wonder how on earth lily-livered snowflakes like me could possibly survive it.
As I approach my forties at an alarming rate, I realise how little I know about what to expect over the next two decades. So many periods of womanhood have been dissected, reviewed, written about and discussed. The “how to be a Mother” section in the bookshop is overflowing with helpful (and not-so-helpful) advice. But when it comes to “middle age” (ugh, we need to find a new term), it is an information desert.
Quilt on Fire is not a “how to survive the menopause” book. It is a book about navigating life, about the powers of female friendship and how just when you think you should have life “sorted”, you realise it is anything but. There is something comforting in knowing that everyone is just bumbling along, making it up as they go, never feeling like they have reached adulthood. At one point Watson says to her therapist, “One of the things I’ve always loved is being around much older and much wiser women”. The therapist nods and replies, “And now you are becoming one”.
I can’t say I feel any wiser having read this memoir. But it has made me hopeful that one day I might. In the meantime, if I am lucky, there will be older and wiser women around to help me out along the way.