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All Fours by Miranda July: One woman’s quest for life after midlife

Novel challenges assumptions about ageing and desire with humour and honesty

Miranda July: All Fours is suffused with her offbeat, cringingly frank humour. Photograph: Elizabeth Weinberg/The New York Times
All Fours
Author: Miranda July
ISBN-13: 978-1838853440
Publisher: Canongate
Guideline Price: £20

Miranda July’s new novel, All Fours, is her first in almost 10 years and challenges assumptions about ageing women and desire, gender and sexuality norms, marriage and monogamy. That all sounds a bit earnest, and in anyone else’s hands it might be, but instead, through July’s unique lens, what we get is an absurdly funny, graphically sexual and wincingly honest depiction of one Gen-X woman’s midlife crisis.

As well as a writer, July is a celebrated film-maker and artist. Her 2007 collection of stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and her 2005 film Me and You and Everyone We Know won prizes at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals.

All Fours revolves around a nameless protagonist in her mid-forties, married with a child, working as a multidisciplinary, semi-famous artist living in LA, much like July, although she has clarified that this novel is fictional with some basic autofictional elements.

At the beginning of the book, her protagonist plans a road trip from LA to New York, ostensibly to work but really to escape her stifling marriage and confront her panic prompted by a perimenopause diagnosis. “I was a throbbing, amorphous ball of light,” she writes, “trying to get my head around a motherly, wifely human form.”


Barely 30 minutes into her trip, she pulls off the freeway and checks into an anonymous motel where she holes up for the next few weeks on a journey of sexual awakening and self-discovery.

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As with all of July’s work, the novel is suffused with her offbeat, cringingly frank humour. There are deadpan one-liners on every other page that make the reader bark with laughter and much of the humour is derived from the mundanity of domestic life.

At one point, a description of the protagonist masturbating whilst simultaneously fretting about a hopefully benign polyp before being interrupted by her child feels like a painfully accurate recipe for midlife malaise – just add one part worrying about dying to two parts thwarted pleasure-seeking.

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In All Fours July balances a similarly precarious mix of humour and profundity without once losing the reader’s interest, and the result is a startlingly honest, vivid and funny tale of one woman’s quest for life after midlife.

Edel Coffey

Edel Coffey

Edel Coffey, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a journalist and broadcaster. Her first novel, Breaking Point, is published by Sphere