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Shining a light on Autism: Kathy Lette’s ‘Best Laid Plans’

Known for her cult classic ‘Puberty Blues’, Kathy Lette is an author with a big mouth and an even bigger sense of humor. Known for speaking exactly what she thinks and her not so ‘politically correct’ jokes, her unique writing style has captivated a worldwide audience. Often her writing is light and playful, while at the same time, tackling darker themes. This is the case of her latest novel, published in 2017,  ‘Best Laid Plans’,  where she tackles the taboo subject of autism, sex and relationships.

“With plenty of comic twists and emotional turns, Kathy Lette’s riotous yet heartrending novel tackles the taboo subject of sex for the ‘differently abled’” – Penguin Books

The book centers around Lucy, a divorced, middle aged high school teacher, and Merlin, her 21 year old autistic son. The story begins on the eve of Merlin’s 21st birthday, when his dedicated and loving mother Lucy is urgently trying to find a lover for her son. The novel takes you on unexpected twists and turns as Merlin ventures in to the world of romance and relationships. This is where Lucy’s troubles begin, as she embarks on the biggest parental test yet.  The novel has quickly become popular, with many celebrities endorsing the novel, including Nicole Kidman and Kylie Minogue.

“Deliciously rude and darkly funny, but with compassion and humanity at its heart. Read with relish.” – Nicole Kidman

Just as Kathy Lette has done in her previous novels, including ‘Puberty Blues’, ‘Best Laid Plans’ also draws on her own life escapades and experience , with the main character Merlin, being based on her own son Julius, who also has Autism. This adds a personal touch throughout the novel and allows the relationship between Lucy and Merlin to be portrayed as authentically and raw as possible. As a reader, this authenticity makes the book really easy to read and allows you to empathise stronger with the characters and this genuineness in her writing has not gone unnoticed.

“Lette is writing about what she knows – her son Julius, a successful actor, has autism – and imbues her latest with a winning blend of tenderness and hilarity.” – The Sydney Morning Herald

The story takes readers on a comical journey, delving into the autistic mind of Merlin.  However, the book isn’t all comedic and does reflect some more confronting and heart wrenching topics. Throughout the novel,  Merlin faces periods of hopelessness and self loathing as he struggles to make friends or gain a job. These difficulties shine a light on the issues and challenges adults with autism face daily. While there is a lot of support for children with autism, adults with autism is a less spoken about issue and is a subject commonly avoided by media. 

Sit down and enjoy Kathy Lette’s new book ‘Best Laid Plans’ just as the main character Lucy would – a good book in one hand and a good glass of wine in the other! – Image by Ashleigh Redpath

All too often, authors and the media alike will tip toe around the subject if disability, especially disabilities in adults. However, Kathy Lette is passionate about shining light on the achievements and abilities of those ‘differently-abled’ and this isn’t the first time Lette has used her works focus on and bring light to the subject of autism. Her 2012 novel, ‘The Boy Who Fell To Earth‘ was her first book to incorporate autism into the story. She used the same character ‘Merlin’ in both novels, following his journey from childhood into adulthood across the two novels.

“With her usual mixture of huge heart and humour she rips the stigma out of autism-  putting the artistic into autistic.” Ruby Wax

Tackling taboo subjects since her debut novel Puberty Blues in 1979, Lette has gone on to produce another 14 novels. All novels feature fiery and strong female characters as the main protagonists, including ‘Courting Trouble and ‘Girls Night Out‘, and as a result, she claims to be the one to have invented the genre chick-lit’, as she was the first to write in a first person, feminist style. Lette uses her platform as a way to share her messages on feminism, empowering women in all of their roles from daughters to successful business women and of course mothers like her self.

The use of language is another reason Kathy Lette’s novel is just so captivating. Spinning together a unique mix of slang and proper english allows her to create an individual voice for each of her characters.  Her sentence structure is also unique in the way that it too is personalised for each of her characters, rambling on in lengthy spells when Lucy is speaking and then speaking in a concoction of metaphors, similes and symbolism to depict Merlins individual voice. Symbolism is routinely when merlin speaks about is inability to communicate with girls:

“And even when I do transmit, no girl ever picks up my signal” – Merlin, pg. 73

 Similes come in to play once merlin has met his girlfriend Kayleigh – using similes to ramble on about his love and desires:

“Love is like music. Luminous unity s achieved when separate, disparate elements melt together to arrive at a glorious harmony, usually by way of discords.” – Merlin, pg. 129

Similarly, she incorporates certain language to further exemplify the setting of the story. In this case, the story is set in the suburbs of London, where Lette has lived for the last 20 years,  and multiple times language is used to remind the readers of this. She has perfectly captured the roughness of the stereotypical UK ‘Chav’ accent, which some of the main characters have. She writes exactly how they would speak, further adding to the character development and allowing readers to have a stronger image of each character.

Overall, the plot is entertaining and full of emotional twists and turns. The book will have you laughing in stitches one minute and holding back tears the next. Kathy perfectly tackles the taboo subject of disability and relationships and all subjects in between, in a raunchy yet tender novel that warms the soul, as you follow the journey of Merlin and Lucy and the lengths a mother would go to for her children. 

Rating: 4/5

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