Joanne Harris on Broken Light: menopausal rage is ignored

Joanne Harris on Broken Light: menopausal rage is ignored

by Suswati Basu

“I had no idea I was an angry person”, said literary veteran Joanne Harris on her new book Broken Light, during a book talk at London’s The Trouble Club. Having published over 20 novels, Harris said that her latest work explores how women can feel invisible as they grow older – and what happens when they decide to take back control.

The British author is best known for her novel Chocolat, which was published in 1999 and was later adapted into a successful film. In addition to Chocolat, Harris has written several other novels, including Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Gentlemen & Players, and The Gospel of Loki.

Her work often draws on themes of magic, folklore, and mythology, and has been translated into over 50 languages. Harris has also been a judge for several literary prizes, including the Whitbread Book Awards and the Orange Prize for Fiction. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Sheffield.

Joanne Harris on women’s rage

Speaking to The Trouble Club, which hosts talks with some of the finest voices discussing everything from politics to fiction, Harris said that the character of Bernie in Broken Light was inspired by some of her own experiences. She said: “I think it’s a really interesting topic, the idea of rage. I had no idea that I was an angry person. I don’t think I am an angry person, really, but there are certain things that do make me angry.”

Harris went on to describe her experiences of being dismissed by health professionals which the protagonist also experiences. “I mean, there is an episode in Broken Light where Bernie goes to her doctor tentatively talking about menopausal symptoms, and he’s not really that interested. The only thing he’s really interested in is whether her sex life has changed. And she’s thinking, Well, I’m going crazy here. Why is he talking about this? And the doctor just says, well, you know what? We could offer HRT, but it’s probably better just to let nature take its course. And this happened to me.”

What Joanne Harris said about Broken Light

In the book, she describes the character of Bernie Moon giving her life to other people: her husband, her son, and her friends. At nineteen she was full of dreams and ambitions; now almost fifty, and going through the menopause, she’s fading, fast. Heartbroken and hormonal, she often feels like she’s losing her mind.

The synopsis adds: “But when a young woman is murdered in a local park, it sparks a series of childhood memories in Bernie and with them, a talent that has lain dormant most of her adult life.

“She promised herself she’d never think of it again. When she was a teenager, it almost destroyed her. But now she’s older, could it be the power she’s been missing? Could it be the chance to, finally, make them look?”

I think we have this burden of shame and this feeling that certain feelings shouldn’t be expressed by a woman. Anger is one of them. And I’ve been pushing back against that a little bit because I think that, first of all, it’s nonsense.

Joanne harris

Harris adds that there is still lots of shame attached to hormonal symptoms and women’s rage, and that women have to carry this burden specifically. “The idea that women shouldn’t be angry, that they should be calm and patient, that men are allowed to be angry, because that is their nature.” At the end of this, Harris said that we need to be pushing back against such a mentality. Broken Light is a story about female ambition, ageing and changing the narrative – something we can all relate to.

Enjoyed this event? Check out Xiaolu Guo on her memoir Radical: ‘women need to find their voice’.

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