Confessions With Keith by Pauline Holdstock

Confessions With Keith is a perfect palate cleanser to something heavy. Written as journal entries by a 40-something woman with a rocky marriage and four busy children, it reminded me of an older, more mature Bridget Jones.

Vita is trying to create a writing career while raising four children, and working around a husband who is completely checked out. As the gap between Vita and her husband grows larger and they move beyond anything resembling the attempt to understand one another, Vita tries to focus on her writing, her kids, her friends – and definitely not on what her husband is up to. Because she just doesn’t care anymore. Let him conduct affairs with other women (possibly women she knows). Let him up and leave the country without consulting her. Let him leave all the care and worry of raising four kids and running a household to her – she can handle it.

How can a person go about daily tasks with her heart disintegrating like offal in an acid bath? How to meet the teacher and make peanut butter sandwiches with the self slowly coming apart, cell by bloody cell? And–here is the really spooky part–NO ONE ELSE CAN SEE IT.

… The Situation only gets worse. It continues to grow and is now behaving like a big, pushy teenager, grabbing the chair one is about to sit in, sullen and ill-behaved, trampling on all the clean feelings. And consuming, consuming, consuming. And we are helpless, hopeless. We feed it at every opportunity, rummaging in dark cupboards, scraping out the back of the fridge for any old mouldy items we can find and it gobbles them all and is not satisfied.

Vita finds some success with food porn – there’s lots of demand for food porn, apparently. (“I roam the produce section now with new eyes.”) And she goes to the book launches of her friends. She even has one herself, except that her book order doesn’t come in time to sell them at the launch, and she forgets her own book to read from so she wraps her cover over a book called The Politics of the Satiated Society, reads poetically from it, and no one knows the difference.

After her husband has definitely left her, Vita is determined to move on. If her husband gets to have affairs, so does she. She imagines she’s in love with one of their old friends, but her chaotic life keeps getting in the way. Then she imagines she’s interested in a writer from Newfoundland who sometimes frequents the same literary events as Vita.

Vita may be a hot mess, but she’s a good mom. That’s not to say she’s the perfect mom who does everything right… but she takes her kids camping and when the power goes out they play games by candle light, and Vita volunteers to chaperone field trips at the school.

At bedtime Miles gave me a note from his teacher: ‘Many thanks for your help at the camp. It was much appreciated. We hope to see you at the lunch for our volunteers on June 14.’ Lunch? I was hoping for the Order of Canada. The experience of Miles’s camp was such a trauma that I see I made no entries for it. They ate mountains of chips and cookies, broke several limbs, flodded the washrooms, and barfed in their sleeping bags. Their teacher’s tolerance and occasional collusion can only be explained as brain damage.

Where does “Keith” come in? Keith is Vita’s hairdresser. She goes to see him when she needs her haircut and/or when she needs a respite from her life. She tells him things and he quotes from studies he’s read that sometimes makes her feel better but sometimes don’t. He’s just making conversation, but she likes to think she’s his only client and that they’ve forged a real friendship. And maybe they have.

This is a book about family, marriage, motherhood, and the importance of having a support network around you. I laughed, chuckled, and giggled my way through this book. And for that it gets 5 stars from me.

So many things in this book reminded me of elements from my own life. Like this passage about her 14-year-old son and the mess in her house…

He shambled over to the counter like a bear up too early in the spring, cleared a small island the size of a placemat in the sea of jetsam, and hunched over his dog bowl of Cheerios to begin reading. Cleared my own small island and joined him there. Could be we help alleviate the garbage crisis by keeping it all at home like this.

Photo by cottonbro studio on

At one point, Vita’s tarot-reading friend Annie comes over and tells Vita’s kids that there are “only three rules in life you have to remember… Brush your teeth, have safe sex, and eat a carrot every day.

What would your three rules be?

Further Reading:

I also read and loved Here I Am by Pauline Holdstock.

Vancouver Sun: “While crisis and uncertainty are foundational materials in Confessions With Keith, coping with humour, wit, and as much dignity as one can muster are the aspects that gleam.”

Winnipeg Free Press:In short, Holdstock’s fast-paced comic novel with its entertaining narrative will captivate readers, especially those who relish domestic tales.

Thank you to Biblioasis for sending me a copy of this book. All the quotes have been taken from an uncorrected proof.

8 thoughts on “Confessions With Keith by Pauline Holdstock

  1. Sarah Emsley says:

    This sounds fabulous. Why is it that the Order of Canada is not handed out to parents who volunteer to chaperone field trips? I had not thought to ask this question before, but now it seems an obvious one. It also seems obvious to me that I need to read this book.

  2. wadholloway says:

    In life and in fiction women seem to handle child-rearing much better without the distraction of men. Whether or not women are born multi-taskers they seem to get the hang of it pretty quickly.
    Of course, children (mostly) seem to like having fathers, and get confused if they keep changing.
    And women often seem to like having men, and around we go.

    • Naomi says:

      Speaking for myself, it’s certainly helpful to have a partner in the picture – especially for practical purposes. But it’s also true that, at times, our ideas clash and, for that reason, it can be easier to parent alone. I knew what I wanted, while my partner was more uncertain. However, other women may have completely different experiences.
      I love hearing your take on things! 🙂

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