Though relatively unknown in the U.S., John O'Farrell, columnist for both The Guardian and The Independent, is renowned in England for his...

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“May Contain Nuts: A Novel of Extreme Parenting”
by John O’Farrell
Black Cat, 319 pp., $13

Though relatively unknown in the U.S., John O’Farrell, columnist for both The Guardian and The Independent, is renowned in England for his humorous and satirical writing. In his latest novel, “May Contain Nuts,” he addresses the modern phenomenon of hyper-parenting and the toll it takes on children. True to his talent, O’Farrell brightens this grim subject with a frivolous, comedic touch.

“I used to be such a cautious woman,” confides Alice Chaplin as she begins her story. She and her husband, David, are raising a young family in London. Unfortunately, the children don’t often measure up to their parents’ high expectations, especially the 11-year-old, Molly, who is supposedly bright but doesn’t do well on tests.

To ensure that Molly is admitted to a reputable private school, Alice throws all caution to the wind and tries a desperate gambit. Disguised as a child, she takes the entrance exam in her daughter’s place. Miraculously, all goes well; Molly is admitted and even wins a scholarship. In the process, Alice understands for the first time the pressure her children undergo. Then the problems begin. A clever young girl, who took the test at the same time, exposes Alice to the school administration. Alice must find a way out of the messy situation that ensues.

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O’Farrell exposes his characters’ warts with gleeful abandon. Though his verbosity can be tiresome and the plot events at times seem contrived, he brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. And he proves that left on their own, children can often take care of themselves quite well, a reminder that many parents might do well to consider.