When I was just starting out as a writer, I would read Nell Frizzell’s articles on arts and culture and yearn for my writing to be as witty, candid and insightful as hers. Now, having read her debut book, The Panic Years, Frizzell is still a writer I’m in awe of – not just for her wit and frankness, but for how she manages to encapsulate and articulate the crises – both individual and as a collective society – each of us face as we grow older and move through life.
On the surface, The Panic Years is a memoir chronicling Frizzell’s shifting mind-set and personal transformation between her mid-twenties and mid-thirties. The titular term coined by Frizzell happens between adolescence and menopause, and is often triggered by the changes going on around you – life-long friends getting married, people of the same age having babies – whilst you stay rooted to the spot, terrified of said life-altering changes and the very real reality of getting left behind.
Yet this book is about so much more than the very tangible, panic-attack inducing fear that comes when traditional expectations dictate that you should be married, with at least a child attached to your hip, if not a whole brood already in full bloom, and your entire life mapped out in front of you, by the time you reach your thirties. Using her own experiences as the backbone of the book, Frizzell offers up wise, perceptive and refreshingly open observations on life, love, family, friendship, motherhood, womanhood, feminism, human physiology, societal pressures, and the still ever present imbalances between men and women.
From her uniquely funny and feminist viewpoint, Frizzell explores the eternal question that seems to define The Panic Years: ‘Should I have a baby and if so when, how, why and with whom?’ Frizzell delves into these complex anxieties and burdens that women feel as their metaphorical and biological clock keeps ticking. You don’t have to be a woman to feel a deep affinity with the subjects this book covers (Frizzell discusses the feelings and experiences of all gender identities) but this is still a memoir that feels inherently personal to womanhood and what being a woman means.
What’s so wonderful about The Panic Years is that it asks questions that many women might not have even realised they’ve been silently mulling over in their minds since they reached their late-twenties. It validates the niggling voices in the back of our heads; the envy-tinged-happiness women feel when they receive yet another wedding invitation or baby announcement through the post, particularly when marriage and motherhood still feels a long way away. These feelings might still linger even if you are married and/or have kids. And so it goes on, until the time we move past The Panic Years – at which point we reach another personal crisis point – hooray! But until then, at least we can stand together in solidarity, knowing that the flux is universal, and whilst that knowledge doesn’t lessen the anxiety, there is a supportive arm-round-the-shoulder comfort in knowing that, as women, we’re not alone in our panic.
The Panic Years was published by Bantam Press on 11 February 2021