In preparation for our book club meeting this week, Helen Monks Takhar discusses the inspiration of the two central figures of her book Precious You and the divide between Gen X-ers and Millennials.
In my twenties, going for a jog demanded I prepare myself for the comments and car horns of men. Cut to fifteen-odd years later and I realise my runs are now wholly untroubled by cat calls. I wonder, briefly, which bits of me have aged most obviously to prompt the silence, before two realisations hit me hard: how warped was it that I cared, even for a second, and when, exactly, did I stop being young? Precious You’s protagonist Katherine Ross, a magazine editor whose midlife is defined by the accumulating losses of her visibility, desirability and relevance, began to emerge from the mire.
Around the same time, I was struck by something else. People my age are stoking a hate narrative against millennials, demonising them as precious avocado-munching ‘snowflakes’. The ongoing campaign by mid-lifers seems a uniquely unnerving take on George Orwell’s observation that each generation imagines itself wiser than the one that comes after it. Gen X-ers like me, who’ve hoovered up free higher education and cheap housing, are not only making our lot even better by exploiting younger adults for their unpaid labour and rental income, but simultaneously belittling their efforts to shape a world that’s fairer, more inclusive, and sober (in all senses of the word).
The divisiveness of the millennial/midlife generation gap felt powerful enough to drive a propulsive thriller.
I needed to collide Katherine with an antagonist who represented everything she finds unsettling about the millennials snapping at her heels. Enter intern Lily Lunt. She’s bright, beautiful, talented and seemingly sober and self-righteous. Katherine is as appalled as she is drawn to Lily, as the young pretender allows Katherine to revisit a youth that’s not yet distant, but frustratingly just out of touching distance.
I believe many self-styled snowflake-haters, like Precious You’s protagonist, are privately intimidated by millennials. Why don’t they drink more? Why are they so prone to protest, when we mostly tolerated a world of unfairness and misogynist crimes (the intimidation of female runners included)? Today’s young make yesterday’s ravers and poll tax rioters feel something we cannot abide above all things: uncool.
Also, while obsessing over ‘entitled millennials’, many of whom are actually deep in debt and renting in perpetuity, people my age unabashedly bemoan our lives’ perceived paucity of money and of square footage on the houses we’re lucky enough to own. Who’s entitled now?
Precious You is about what may fall into these self-awareness and empathy gaps. Katherine and Lily connect; they could be ruling their workplace together, but instead a dark obsession grows, fuelling a cat-and-mouse game which variously robs one or both characters of their career, their home, their relationship and ultimately, for one character, their life.
Men and patriarchy are, of course, the culprits for vast majority of the injustices facing women of all ages, but women don’t always default to mutual support, particularly in competitive environments poisoned by a male gaze that objectifies us when we are young and side-lines us as we age.
That’s why Precious You is written to be gulped down, while inviting readers to rethink the phony enemy lines dividing women’s worlds.