Paula Houseman’s Odyssey in a Teacup is an inspiring, funny story of an Australian woman’s journey, or rather, a series of journeys of self-discovery that will resonate with women—particularly those of the baby boomer era.

Odyssey in a Teacup’s main character, Ruth Roth (single syllables, deprived of a middle name) takes us through the ups and downs, madcap recollections and zany characters she encounters from a young age. You find yourself laughing aloud at some of the hilarious situations to which any woman can relate.

From an early age, Ruth struggles to deal with an overbearing, mordant mother, Sylvia, and a flatulent father, Joe, who diminish her confidence by telling her she’s a ‘mistake’, because she was conceived just two months after her brother was born. And as a girl, Ruth’s not encouraged to aspire to anything more than finding a nice Jewish boy to marry. The diminution of her spirit is further compounded by a bitchy mirror that slaps her down at every opportunity, as well as bullying doctors, teachers, colleagues, and cousins.

Ruth’s cousin Ralph Brill (also single syllables, no middle name—but he “doesn’t give a shit”) and her two close friends, Maxi and Vette, are her mainstay, while her irreverent humour, smart mouth and canniness also keep her buoyant, even though they sometimes get her into trouble.

Inevitably, the unpleasant people and disastrous experiences she has to contend with during her odysseys see her develop a number of phobias, not least cacomorphobia (a fear of morbidly obese people), and an insidious dread of Sundays, when as far as Ruth’s concerned, God invariably goes AWOL.

Ruth realises her life closely resembles a Greek tragicomedy, and with a passion for ancient mythology, it’s little wonder she relays her story through an anthology of Greek myths, identifying with the ancient gods—not least Baubo, the hideous goddess of bawdiness, who she comes to acknowledge as her protagonist.

Ruth does eventually marry a nice Jewish boy and has two children, Hannah and Casper. At first, she revels in their spirited personalities and irreverence, yet at the same time she struggles with disapproving teachers and the ubiquitous competitiveness of other mothers, causing her to regress and her confidence crumble. Until a disastrous function becomes the panacea when she finally recognises she needs to change course and begin a new journey—alone. But just as her latest odyssey begins, something happens that changes everything …

Odyssey in a Teacup is an uplifting, hilarious, yet at times, sobering story of how bias, religious and superstitious mores, bullying and self-doubt can hinder personal growth, but also how the love of close friends, a sense of humour, and above all, determination can help us to embark on new adventures throughout our life.

— Sally Asnicar