BOOK REVIEW: Karen McLeod’s ‘Lifting Off’

July 1, 2024

Soaring High: Karen McLeod’s ‘Lifting Off’ Takes Flight

Review by Eric Page

Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a literary journey, Karen McLeod’s ‘Lifting Off’ will whisk you away on an emotional and exhilarating ride. As a book reviewer who’s navigated many a narrative, McLeod’s debut memoir ( see her previous novel here)  is a first-class ticket to a story that soars high. An absorbing and often hilarious account of the author’s 12 years as closeted cabin crew for British Airways. It’s a story of love, creativity and acceptance, the transformative power of lesbian love, self acceptance, grief and more.

Karen is a flight attendant whose professional life is a symphony of sky-high adventures, gossip, BA protocols, drinking and in-flight escapades. But beneath the polished uniform and the endless sky lies a turbulent inner world where she grapples with the storm clouds of living a lie. This journey is one many in the LGBTQ community will find painfully relatable: the struggle to reconcile her true self with the expectations of those around her, all while maintaining the poise and grace demanded by her job.

McLeod masterfully navigates the contrast between her love for her job and the emotional baggage she carries.  How she first comes Out but then has to go back in, exposing the double standards of celebrating and supporting male cabin crews’ sexuality and gayness is contrasted with the experiences of hostility and prejudice from being an out lesbian in the same staff teams. The novel’s flight path takes us through the exhilarating highs of her globe-trotting career, where every layover is a new adventure, and the crushing lows of hiding her identity. Her internal turbulence is poignantly depicted, making her struggle all the more heart-wrenching and her courage to embrace her true self utterly inspiring. Oh and the drinking, so very much drinking.

The cabin crew puns and aviation metaphors are delightfully on point, elevating the narrative. McLeod’s writing style is as crisp and refreshing as a pre-flight cocktail, and her wit is sharper than a cabin crews fringe. Each chapter feels like a new leg of the journey, with Tessa’s development paralleling the ascent, cruising, and eventual landing of long-haul flights.

What truly makes ‘Lifting Off’ a standout is McLeod’s ability to blend humor with heartache, creating a narrative that is as entertaining as it is enlightening. All wrapped up in beautiful, artfully polished prose which is as light as it is ruthless.  McLeod really understands the weight of a word and writes in a way which drawn you in, and on, with an irresistible  narrative pace. The characters, especially her ‘best gay mate’, are well-rounded and relatable, ensuring that readers are fully on board with their stories. We get searing honest insight into her struggles with alcohol and the impacts of a ‘jet set’ lifestyle on mental and physical health along with laugh out loud honesty of some of the situations that lead to.  The dialogue is as natural as the banter between seasoned flight attendants, adding an authentic touch to the story’s high-flying realism and her honesty about the impact of her father’s physical decline and death gives huge insight into her earlier family life.

‘Lifting Off’ is more than just a book; it’s a celebration of self-discovery and the courage it takes to live authentically and the ability of the honest love from another person to change our minds about ourselves. . McLeod’s book is a beacon of hope for anyone who has ever felt grounded by societal expectations. It’s a reminder that, no matter how turbulent the journey, we all deserve to soar freely.

You may have come across Karen on the Queer performance scene and Comedy circuit as her alter ego-  Barbara Brownskirt, a Judi Dench mega-fan and poet-in-residence at the 197 bus stop on the Croydon Road in south-east London.

So, dear readers, stow away your doubts and let Karen McLeod’s ‘Lifting Off’ take you on a journey you won’t soon forget. This is one flight where you’ll want to savor every moment, from the thrilling takeoff to the heartfelt landing. Here’s to clear skies and brighter tomorrows, both for our author and for every reader ready to embark on their own unforgettable adventure.

out now £10.99

For more info or to order a copy, see the publishers website here: