Second helpings

<strong>Unaccompanied Women</strong>

Jane Juska <em>Chatto & Windus, 253pp, £12.99</em>

ISBN 070

Six years ago, as a result of what she now refers to as "the only stroke of genius I ever had", Jane Juska, a retired English teacher from Berkeley, California, placed a personal ad in the New York Review of Books. A masterpiece of concision, it read: "Before I turn 67, I would like to have sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me." Did it pay off? Certainly. Juska, a divorcee who had been celibate for far too long, received 63 replies and, once she'd culled the loonies, was able to bag herself quite a lot of sex. Naturally, she was mighty pleased about this - so pleased, in fact, that she decided to trumpet her satisfaction in a lusty memoir called A Round-Heeled Woman. When it was published in 2003, it made her the international poster girl for post-menopausal randiness.

Now, with a merry twang of her elasticated waistband (I'm not being mean: Juska happily admits to owning stretchy "pants"), she is off again. Or so it seems at first. Unaccompanied Women has a tantalising subtitle - "late-life adventures in love, sex and real estate" - which contrives to make you picture her rolling illicitly on the dusty floor of an empty property. But it's wildly misleading. You might as well believe the outlandish promises on a pot of face cream. There are no fresh exploits here; readers in search of yet more inspirational wrinkly couplings should look away now. Open it and you will hear not ecstatic moaning, nor even the protesting sigh of Juska's too-small futon, but the sound of a dead horse being flogged - and I don't mean this in a kinky way.

In a sense, I suppose, it is rather sweet. Thrilled at her success (she made the cover of the New York Times style section and was shot "at home" for Oprah magazine) and eager to satisfy the cravings of all the women who found her first book so resonant - at book signings she found herself cast in the role of relationship guru - Juska was probably eager to strike while the iron was hot. In this, she was no doubt aided and abetted by an eager publisher. The only trouble is, she has nothing new to say. A portion of this book is devoted to tidying up loose ends. Fine. What did happen to the well-hung 33-year-old with whom she enjoyed such rhapsodic action? (He got married, to someone his own age.) But the rest of the time she just witters on - and on.

There are lots of anecdotes about other women. Some of these women are those who came up to her in bookshops and asked for advice. She records their stories at length - "her name is Jody, she is 54 years old . . . over the years her husband has lost all interest in making love" - but they feel too second-hand to be of real interest. Others are her female friends, with whom she has oddly childish spats. The rest of the time she is either obsessing about Graham - the 33-year-old - or her rent. It turns out that "real estate" means her 350-square-foot rented cottage. As an ex-teacher she is not rich, and her royalties do not yet seem to have made an impact on her bank balance. So she worries. Now, if I were Juska's friend, or her daughter, I might just be happy to hear about this - or the conversation she recently overheard in the cinema, or her views on school reunions. But do I want to read about them? Only an exquisite stylist can make the quotidian sing. Jane Juska urgently requires material that is out of the ordinary.

And what of her sex life? While I would not want to make important feminist claims for A Round-Heeled Woman, there is no doubt that it spoke for millions of all-but-invisible women whom the rest of us - men especially - no longer expect to feel desire. The bed-hopping was fun, but her longing for male company was also poignant, and a little angry. Look at me, she was saying. Just because I have lines on my face doesn't mean that I don't want to be touched. So it is disappointing to find that, while she has no regrets about Graham (or Robert, or Sidney, or John), she is more alone than ever. If it was easier than she expected to get horizontal, it is as hard as it ever was to find a keeper.

Bruised, heartily sick of always checking her e-mail, she shores herself up with mere mem ories of "the touch of a man's hand on my thigh". Daydreaming is safer than the real thing. Unaccompanied Women, then, is not only a failure in its own right; it comes close to cancelling out the achievement - the unbridled joy - of its predecessor. Juska first wrote a clever, wry book that laughed in the face of the expectations of age, yet now she dishes up one rambling senior moment after another. And having made out that, just like a man, she only wanted to get laid, it now seems that what she was really after was not sex, but someone to keep her warm at night.

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