Kathy Lette on getting even in the ‘The Revenge Club’

Article | Mar 2024

KATHY LETTE is the co-author of the iconic, proto-feminist work, Puberty Blues, and she has written over 20 books that have been translated into 19 languages. Her latest novel The Revenge Club is a witty story about settling scores and getting even.

AKINA HANSEN writes. 

 

At 16 years of age Kathy Lette left school to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Just one year after leaving school, she co-authored Puberty Blues, an autobiographical novel that exposed the rampant sexism of surf culture in 1970s Australia. 

While the book was initially deemed controversial, it quickly became a cult classic and its status as a trailblazing work of feminist literature was further consolidated with its 1982 film adaption that inspired female viewers to push back against the patriarchy. 

‘I love the idea that the sisterhood is powerful and I’ve always been a huge champion of women from Puberty Blues on – that if women stick together they can conquer. My motto in life, which I’ve said many times, and which is absolutely true, is that women are each other’s human wonder bras, uplifting, supporting, making each other look bigger and better. So, in all my books I champion women because it’s still a man’s world.’

Indeed, since then, Kathy’s career has seen her consistently advocate for women. We see this in her works such as Girls Night Out, Men: A user’s guide, Courting Trouble, and more. 

‘I always write the book I wish I’d had when I was going through something. Whether it was puberty, being a single girl in Sydney, marriage, childbirth, menopause, divorce, post-divorce, falling in love late in life, whatever I’m going through, I think, “Oh God, I wish I’d had a manual”. I write a novel for other women saying, “This is what it was like for me, this might help you”.’

Her latest book, The Revenge Club, is no exception. The story follows Matilda, Penny, Cressida and Jo, four highly successful and ambitious women in their 50s who are confronted with ageism and sexism in the workplace. 

‘Every single bit of sexism in the book is real, either taken from my life, my friends’ lives, or from the newspapers. You can open the paper any day and there’ll be 10 stories where women are raped, killed, or demonised and losing their job because they’re menopausal. We still live in a patriarchal world and it is still powerful despite the Me Too movement. Those top border predators have crawled under a rock for a little while, but they’re still there.’

The Revenge Club specifically looks at gendered ageism and illuminates how insidious the discrimination is against older women in the workplace. Certainly, the view that women are no longer worthy after a certain age has been a part of the patriarchal narrative since time immemorial. From stereotypes that portray older women as incompetent, snoopy, or as crazed cat ladies, to being too hormonal during menopause to make decisions – these are just a few of the stigmas women have to deal with and it’s a constant battle to just to be seen and heard.  

‘Women definitely get sidelined post menopause; society thinks we’ve passed our amuse-by dates. But to me, women are just coming into their prime.’

When Kathy first began pitching her idea to publishers in the UK, she faced a lot of push back with many in the industry who argued that women her age weren’t marketable. 

‘I was turned down by so many publishers in the UK, and they just said, “No one wants to read about older women, it’s just not sexy”. And I was like, “Are you kidding me? My women friends have never been so sexy because they know themselves, they know what they want”.

The Revenge Club is centred around the friendship of four women, Jo, who works in special effects, Matilda, an author, Penny, an investigative journalist, and Cressida, an actress. In Kathy’s own life she is surrounded by a litany of empowered and strong women, so she drew from her relationships to capture the comradery and affection shared between the characters. 

‘I’ve got three incredible sisters and I’ve got a group of Aussie girlfriends. We’re called the girts because we say our home is girt by sea, and we’ve been friends since our teens. And we get together all the time and just cackle like kookaburras … I think Australian women are the world’s best kept secret: funny, feisty, frank, and fiercely loyal. I’ve never found that same level of sisterly solidarity anywhere in the world. And I’ve lived in England, I’ve lived in New York, I’ve lived in LA, there’s something special about female friendship.’

In The Revenge Club when the four friends reunite after decades apart, they are shocked to discover that Jo has been living life as a man. We quickly find out that after an unfair and humiliating dismissal by her boss, Jo decides to assume a male identity and get her job back. Under her new alias, Jo helps the other women take revenge after they each experience professional blows and are replaced with significantly less qualified men. 

‘I thought, the best way to show the men how sexist the world is to show them how much better life is for Jo when she’s pretending to be a man. The other girls they’re like “You’re so right, car mechanics don’t rip you off, you can walk down the street without being harassed”, I mean she just found it so liberating up to a point.’

Matilda, Penny, Cressida and Jo form ‘The Revenge Club’ to conspire together to take down the men who have wronged them. With their trusted double agent, Jo, the women are able to intercept the male echelons of society and exact their revenge. 

‘Women my age just get disappeared, that cloak of invisibility gets put on you. And I’m like, “Well, are we going to use that cloak for good or for evil? Let’s use it for some evil, have some revenge and have some fun”.

‘I wanted to come up with schemes for each man that would hit them in their weak spot.’

From adding Nair Hair Removal Cream to shampoo, to using a coder to obtain confidential and compromising materials – the four friends work together to inflict meaningful retribution. 

The Revenge Club emphasises the wit, wisdom, resilience and strength of older women with Kathy stressing that ‘the most powerful women are of a certain age. So do not write us off, I say.’

Will we see more of Kathy’s characters in future instalments? Kathy shares it’s definitely a possibility: ‘I would call them the fallen angels, going out there like middle-age superheroes, armed with Nair hair remover and retinol taking out the misogynists of the world. I just thought it’d be so much fun to write it on as a series, if it works.’

While The Revenge Club is a fun novel with lots of Kathy’s trademark wit, importantly it is also a call to action. 

‘We’re never going to get equal pay until men come to the barricades with us and say, “Yeah, this is outrageous that women are still second-class citizens”. I never feel there’s enough outrage from men about the behaviour of other men. So, I just want to give them a glimpse into our world and say, “Come and be our comrades. We need you”.’

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Lette authorThe only examination I’ve ever passed is my cervical smear test.

I penned my first novel Puberty Blues aged 17, as revenge on the surfie boys with whom I grew up. The blokes disproved the theory of evolution – they were evolving into apes.

The book became a cult classic proving that poetic justice is the only true justice in the world – and I say that having been married to a lawyer!

Dropping your own name is quite a weird art form, so I’m going to let my publishers do it for me instead …

Kathy Lette is a celebrated and outspoken comic writer who has an imitable take on serious current issues. She is one of the pioneering voices of contemporary feminism, paving the way for Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham.

She first achieved succès de scandale as a teenager with the novel Puberty Blues, which was made into a major film and a TV mini-series.

After several years as a singer with the Salami Sisters, a newspaper columnist in Sydney and New York, and as a television sitcom writer for Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, Kathy wrote numerous international bestsellers including Mad Cows (which was made into a film starring Joanna Lumley and Anna Friel), How to Kill Your Husband and Other Handy Household Hints(recently staged by the Victorian Opera, Australia), To Love, Honour and Betray and The Boy Who Fell To Earth.

Her twenty novels have been published in nineteen languages around the world, and she is also an ambassador for The National Autistic Society, Their World and Ambitious about Autism.

In 2004 she was the London Savoy Hotel’s Writer in Residence, where a cocktail named after her can still be ordered.

Kathy is an autodidact (a word she obviously taught herself), but has three honorary doctorates.

Kathy recently completed a tour of her one-woman show, “Girls Night Out”, and is pleased to report that she didn’t fall out with the cast. 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 has two children and divides her time between Sydney and London.

Visit Kathy Lette’s website

Author: Kathy Lette

Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Aria

ISBN: 9781035901289

RRP: $32.99

Reader Comments

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all reviews

The Latest List