#100WomenNovelists: Nora Ephron

Blog Post 28: Heartburn (1983)

The first day I did not think it was funny. I didn’t think it was funny the third day either, but I managed to make a little joke about it.

The blurb on the back of my Virago Modern Classics edition says this: ‘Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel discovers that her husband is in love with another woman. The fact that the other woman has ‘a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb’ is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel is a cookery writer, and between trying to win Mark back and wishing him dead, she offers us some of her favourite recipes. Heartburn is a roller coaster of love, betrayal, loss and – most satisfyingly – revenge.’

This is another of those novels, based on the writer’s own experiences, that can be devoured in one sitting, not just because it is short, but because the voice carries you along with such verve, energy, angst, and honesty. Ephron said of Heartburn: ‘It’s been nearly 25 years since my second marriage ended, and 22 since I finished writing Heartburn, which is often referred to as a thinly disguised novel. I have no real quarrel with this description, even though I’ve noticed, over the years, that the words “thinly disguised” are applied mostly to books written by women. Let’s face it, Philip Roth and John Updike picked away at the carcasses of their early marriages in book after book, but to the best of my knowledge they were never hit with the “thinly disguised” thing.’

The main characters are based on real people, famous people, which you can Google if you need to (it makes for interesting reading) but that’s not the important thing here. The important thing is the writing that allowed Ephron to take control of her life, rather than being a victim. Not only was she a journalist, a cookery writer, and a novelist, but she was also a very successful screen writer with films such as ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ to her name. At the end of this novel, she writes, ‘Of course, I’m writing this later, much later, and it worries me that I’ve done what I usually do—hidden the anger, covered the pain, pretended it wasn’t there for the sake of the story. . . Because if I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me. . . Because if I tell the story I can get on with it.’

Also, she remembers her mother’s wise words: Everything is copy.

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