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How to Lette loose and replace your husband

KATHY Lette is deep in the "corona cocoon". The Australian author who co-penned Puberty Blues with Gabrielle Carey nearly 50 years ago is sympathising with women across the globe as she self-isolates in her London home.

"Husband Replacement Therapy," the 61-year-old says, "every woman I know wants to replace her husband right now. It was during lockdown when they couldn't get their cleaners, they finally realised how little their spouses do around the house.

"So many of my girlfriends have a half-sanded dining room table they can't put anything hot on. Their husbands have got bored and moved on to another project or probably to watch television.

"Every time they ring me up - we Zoom each day - and they say they are digging up their garden, I think they are going to compost their companions."

Not Kathy though. She's living her "second act", finding new love in a younger man after two divorces, including her marriage of 27 years to human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson that ended in 2017.

"I've had two alpha husbands. Beta is better," she says. "I've now got a guy who is seven years younger than me. He's not an alpha male, he's a nurturer.

"I can tell you, what every woman wants is a younger man because they adore you, they don't bore you and they do all your chores for you."

And she wants you to jump in the covers with her. Not into bed, but into the pages of her new book, bearing the aforementioned title, HRT: Husband Replacement Therapy.

The celebrated author and outspoken comic writer has written 14 international bestsellers in her characteristic witty voice, including Mad Cows, How to Kill Your Husband - and Other Handy Household Hints (staged by the Victorian Opera) and Foetal Attraction. Her books are published in 17 languages.

Australian author Kathy Lette is having her second act.
Australian author Kathy Lette is having her second act.

Kathy's success from scandal came as a teenager living in suburban Sydney with the novel Puberty Blues (1979), which was later made into a major film and a TV mini-series.

She cites her career highlights as once teaching Stephen Fry a word, Salman Rushdie the limbo and scripting Julian Assange's cameo in The Simpsons 500th episode.

Kathy, who lives in Sydney and London, even has a cocktail named after her at the Savoy Hotel after a writer-in-residence stint.

But these achievements are hard to rate against the endorsement by Australia's own Kath and Kim on the cover of her latest book: "We've devoured Kathy's newy over a cardonnay in one sitting! She's the thinking lady's hornbag".

"It's the ultimate compliment," she says. "To me, it's better than winning the Booker Prize. It is going to be on my epitaph, on my gravestone."

Kathy agrees her career to date has been book ended by hormones: puberty and now, menopause.

Her newest novel gets inside the head of 50-year-old Ruby, who discovers she has terminal cancer and her husband's having an affair. Not one to take up crochet, she cashes in her life savings to take her two sisters on a cruise into the sunset for a dose of Husband Replacement Therapy.

"I think for the first time in history women can have a second act," Kathy says.

"Before now, if wives were distressed, they soothed their angst by putting their head in the pillow and screaming for hours. Now, not only are we financially independent, we've got this rocket fuel of HRT.

"We live so long now - honeymoon to tomb can be 60, 70, even 80 years. Most divorces now are silver divorces, people around the menopausal age because they want different things.

"Men want to stay in, and women are like 'I've stayed home, I've cooked flocks of sheep and schools of salmon, I want to climb Everest, I want to learn to tango in Brazil'.

"There's a real difference in what couples want. Either the men change, or the couples lead an 'individuating' life, where couples live under the same roof but lead different lives."

She says menopause gets bad press.

"I think menopause is a joyful thing - no periods, no pregnancy, the kids have left home (out the door by 24, that's the rule) and we have this fantastic opportunity for the first time ever to cut the psychological umbilical cord that keeps you tethered to the kitchen by your apron and your heart strings and take on the world," she says.

Sure, approaching menopause can be daunting, but it's not all despair.

"You will soon be having your own weather, sweating so much you feel as though you're undergoing interrogation by the Gestapo. But why have a hot flush when you can have a hot tropical holiday somewhere exotic? You've raised your kids and paid your dues. It's time to start living again."

And for those who are contemplating cutting that proverbial umbilical cord, Kathy offers more advice where that came from.

"Find a man who is hung like a horse. That's equine therapy for middle-aged women.

"Forget Eat, Pray, Love. What about Drink, Dance, Shag? You're now footloose and Spanx-free.

"Book yourself on a Cougar Cruise and have your beefcake and eat him too. Toy boys are more effective than a Kegel8 miracle machine."

Kathy dedicates her latest to her sisters Jenny, Liz and Cara. It was on a cruise with her mother and sisters a couple of years ago that she found lots of material to work with.

"It's true that I got divorced and I did decide to seize my moment," she says, firing puns like a machine gun.

"It is true that I think women should carpe the hell out of diem because life is incredibly short.

"When your kids leave home, you suddenly think 'Oh my god, that's been 30 years of my life where I've been a runner up in the human race, putting kids and the husband first'. You do think, 'If not now, when?'

"Once I got divorced, of course I did try younger men, so I got a lot of material. I want to be honest about it. Life post-menopause for women: when you just want to swing off a chandelier with a toy boy between your teeth," she says with trademark wit.

Kathy is one of the pioneering voices of contemporary feminism, paving the way for voices like Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham. She comes from a strong line of working women, and while they never spoke about feminism as such, she watched on by example.

"My mother worked full-time, which was very unusual back then," Kathy says.

"She was the only mother in my group of friends at school who had a full-time job. Not just that, she was a head teacher of English in primary school and I had three sisters, so it was a very feminine household. Everybody was very motivated and driven to succeed.

"My grandmother, Mum's mother, was a teacher, so there was never any notion that you would wait for some knight in shining Armani. You had to learn to stand on your own two stilettos, well, your own two thongs."

Her father was Merv Lette, a well-known prop forward who played for Canterbury Bulldogs in the early 1950s.

"His name was Mervyn, he worked in optic fibre, so we called him Optic Merv," Kathy says. "He wanted four sons so he could teach them rugby league. Of course, he got four feisty daughters.

"We had to practise how to scrum and tackle, which I hated, but I think I do have that football gene in that I like to verbally scrum. If I see a chauvinist, I will take him down. I've got a little bit of Merv's ball-kicking gene in me."

 

Kathy Lette's latest book is HRT: Husband Replacement Therapy.
Kathy Lette's latest book is HRT: Husband Replacement Therapy.

 

Kathy wrote Puberty Blues at age 17, as a "revenge" on the surfie boys she grew up with. At the time, she was reading Germaine Greer.

"With Puberty Blues, that book was written for my surfie girlfriends to say to them, you are more than just a life support system to a pair of breasts," she says. "It was a purposely feminist book.

"I couldn't stand the way we girls were human handbags draped over the arm of some guy. When I was growing up Germaine Greer was rhyming slang for beer."

Kathy says it's a great male myth that women aren't funny.

"I think they presume the entire time we are talking about the length of their members, which I always say is not true, because we also talk about the width after childbirth," she says.

"If I have any strength as a writer, it's writing down the way women talk when men aren't around. It's incredibly funny and amazingly frank."

She notes a difference between male and female humour.

"My male friends are really funny, but I call it the black belt in tongue-fu. They fire off one-liners and jokes, whereas women never tell set jokes, ever. They never say 'Did you hear the one about the Irish homosexuals?' No.

"But our humour is very cathartic, very confessional and incredibly candid. I call it stripping off to your emotional undies. It's a psychological striptease that reveals all."

Kathy has always charted women's lives and is unerring in her insights and understanding of what it is to be a woman of a certain age.

"I always try to write the book I wish had when I was going through something. Like a manual for coming up behind me," she says.

"I also try and disarm with charm because if you can be funny you can slip your feminist message in much more effectively. It's much harder to write funny than it is to write serious.

"The only books that ever win prizes have the words 'death' or 'rogue' or 'journey' in the title. God, if I could, I would only award the books that made me roar with laughter.

"Laughter is the best medicine and right now, it's the only 'medicine' we have."

It's only been a little over a month since Kathy returned from sailing a catamaran through the Whitsundays with her sisters and mother for her British newspaper column "Adventure before Dementia".

"We felt like those Japanese soldiers that came out of the jungle like 20 years after the war had ended and didn't know the war had ended. We were like that in reverse," she says.

"We knew that coronavirus was going on in Wuhan. We got on the boat and had no radio contact for days. Occasionally we would get a signal and I'd send out a tweet, but we weren't looking at any media. We were completely oblivious.

"When we got back to Hamilton Island, the world had just changed. Suddenly we had to get back to Sydney, they were about to close the borders.

"I was thinking, how am I going to get back to London to look after my autistic son? Should I stay in Sydney and look after my 88-year-old mother? I was completely torn.

"My mother said you've got to get back to your son. But it was a horrible choice because I thought if she gets Covid at 88, there's a very good chance she'll die and I won't be able to get back.

"Luckily she's fine. Every day we do The Guardian and The Times crossword by Skype together. It's so much fun."

Our conversation flicks between menopause, motherhood and marriage.

Kathy's eldest child Julius is 29, her daughter Georgina is 26. In 2012, her book The Boy Who Fell to Earth was written about Julius and raising a child with Asperger's syndrome.

"You don't really appreciate your own mother until you become a mother," she says.

"You have no idea of the sacrifices and the limitless love that is lavished on you until you see how you lavish it on your own children. That for me was a tender discovery.

"What my son taught me is there is no such thing as normal and abnormal. There is ordinary and extraordinary. People with autism have a literal, lateral, tangential logic which is exceptional and fascinating. He taught me to be more compassionate and less judgemental. It's been quite a journey; it still is a journey. He lives with me."

Kathy fed Julius's obsession of becoming an actor by giving him acting classes. In 2016 Julius was cast in the British medical drama Holby City.

"I thought, how do you put artistic into autistic? I couldn't see it," she says.

"He went on to win some awards and now he is a TV star. A happy story about autism for a change."

As Mother's Day approaches, Kathy reflects on her motherhood journey some more. She says the perfect mother doesn't exist. "Why would any woman want a halo? It's just one more thing to polish.

"Men always ask me what do women want in bed and I always say, breakfast … and a really good book. We want them to help around the house. And it's in their best interests because it is scientifically proven that no woman ever shot her husband while he was vacuuming."

HRT: Husband Replacement Therapy (Vintage) is out now.