Right, I’m going to say it, I’m just going to come out and say it. No holding back any longer, I am a strong independent woman who has the right to state her own opinion freely and without fear.
I really really love Marian Keyes.
Not in a lazy-Sunday-afternoon-in-the-bath way, not in a holiday-reading way, but in an actually,-I-think-she’s-a-bloody-good-writer-and-capable-of-many-things way.
I just love her. I love her honesty in writing characters that are fundamentally flawed. I love her sense of humour, and that she finds the same little things funny as I do. I love the way she incorporates fashion and style and modern thinking into her books, without overdoing it and making them hopelessly dated. I love how my the end of certain parts you are weeping because these are real people whose lives you’ve intruded upon and you almost want to give them all little hugs and make them a cup of tea and tell them everything will be better. Because that is what you would do with your friends. And they are your friends. And she is your friend. Marian, my friend Marian. Ahhh.
I mean just look at the woman. She is a brand for women who like biscuits and handbags but more often than not have biscuits in their handbags and when searching for their mobiles get crumbs all over their coats. She looks like Primark pyjamas that have never been washed. Like proper hot chocolate, made in a pan, by a man with wide shoulders. Not as good as your mum, she’s way too sexy to be your mum, but maybe like your best friends’ older sister. Even her fringe looks comforting.
I first discovered Marian (you can call her Marian, she doesn’t mind) when I was 13 on a coach trip coming home from Spain with school. I had predictably run out of books and for some reason (even though some of my favourite books of all time have been randomly bought in foreign railway stations- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco being the best example. Made Florence ’06 so much better) I was unable to buy more. Probably because I had spend all of my money on a small wooden statue of a voodoo priest and a massive poster of the Sagrada Familla that I STILL haven’t got framed. But never mind.
The book I ended up borrowing (I say borrow, I mean steal, but she dropped my Clan of the Cave Bear in the bath so fair enough says I) was ‘Last Chance Saloon’, which had been published by Keyes the year before. Could Not Put It Down. ‘LCS’ is the story of a group of friends in their thirties living in London in the late nineties. Three of them are Irish from a small town in Co Clare: Tara, who now lives with her arsehole tight fisted misogynistic boyfriend and has no self esteem about her appearance, even though she is clearly successful and popular with her friends (love this character even more now I have grown up and know so many people like this! So very very frustrating): Katherine, who comes across as a confident Ice Queen (her nickname in the office where she works- one of the funniest bits in the books for me is when the new office temp calls her Ice Queen to her face, thinking it must be an Irish name or something. I know full well I will end up doing something like this at some point), but in reality has as little self esteem as Tara, especially when it comes to men: and finally Fintan, a fashionista living with his equally modern and hip boyf who seems to be the happiest of all three of them. The book starts with each character getting on with their lives. Then, Fintan becomes ill (and what I really, really like is that it isn’t AIDS, but cancer. Not that I like cancer) and forces Tara and Katherine to make drastic changes as his last wishes.
This leads to much hilarity as the two women battle against straying from what they consider ‘normal’ behaviour (such as wearing a dress two sizes too small because your boyfriend tells you to, even though you don’t like yourself in it, then putting up without complaint whilst he calls you ‘fat’. I really really hate Thomas) in order to fulfil the final wishes of their best friend. The book also explains the reasons behind Tara and Katherine’s character flaws, going back to their childhoods and moving to Limerick. The book is, in turns, romantic, tragically sad and hilariously funny. It also contains one of the most highly charged, whilst excruciatingly subtle sex scenes I have ever read. You should know by now I don’t like gratuitous anything, the sex in Keyes books is real, and important in showing how the characters fit around each other. I still have a mega crush for Joe Roth, who is NOT REAL. Not Real.
I must have read this book about thirty times in the last twelve years. Even if I don’t read all of it, I could read the chapter of Katherine and Joe’s first date over and over again- its like Darcy’s proposal; you know its going to happen at the end, but its just so beautiful.
Of course semi-prolific writers (ten books in fifteen years, all of which are at least two inches thick, plus two collections of short stories, endless amounts of journalism and two books written for ESOL learners. Not bad) can’t always be amazing, Marian does have some books that have fallen flat. Her latest ‘The Brightest Star in the Sky’ was criticized for being too out-of-this-worldy and borrowing heavily on the style of another prominent Irish Women’s Author (why do I say that? I wouldn’t go Adele Parks, she’s a Prominent English Women’s Author. Sorry for the slight case of literary racism) Cecelia Ahern. I haven’t read it yet, so can’t comment, but I did not enjoy ‘Anybody Out There’, and found ‘Watermelon’ (to be fair, her debut. But then look at all the other debuts I’ve been loving recently! Props go out to the Kostova Massive- just as soon as I can justify £14 for a hardback I will hitting that Swan Thieves), draggy and semi pointless- in fact I’m not massively keen on any of the Walsh family, her reoccurring characters, five sisters who get a book apiece- but I defy you not to read ‘Angels’ and weep.
The reason I’m going on about Keyes is because I have just finished what I believe to be her ‘best’ book in terms of actual writing; ‘This Charming Man’. This is the story of Paddy de Courcey, a successful politician in Ireland who has just announced his marriage to the press. This comes as a surprise both to his fiancée, Alicia, who did not know a wedding was immanent, and his girlfriend, Lola, who did not know about hi fiancée. Thrown into the mix are investigative journalist, Grace, and her sister Marcie who has a mysterious connection to Paddy. The story is told from the point of view of four different women, each of whom writes in a totally different style (Lola in diary format with no propositions). I know multiple-voice isn’t particularly new or clever, but she does it really well, and structurally the novel is excellent, slow at the front then suddenly incredibly gripping. What I also love about Keyes, which she demonstrates in this novel in particular, his her willingness to tackle themes that are Big and Important without loosing her reader. ‘The Charming Man’ is also an exposé of domestic violence and alcoholism, and by having the victims being strong women who you expect not to put up with that sort of thing, the reader is even more aware of the horrors of violence against women, and that it could (and does) happen to anyone. Marian does not let her characters ‘get away’ with it either; although you genuinely feel sorry for the alcoholic mother who looses her job and family because of her drinking, you also feel utter disgust for her actions and want to shake the poor woman in parts. I felt a lot more effected by the violence in this novel, more so than say ‘The woman who walked into doors’ by Roddy Doyle (which I will hands up say is the better book literary speaking) because it is juxtaposed so well by the humour. Yes its cheesy and easy, but so what? She has done the job, made the reader more aware, and who knows how many ‘normal’ women will read that book and turn around on their dickhead husbands and leave them?
There is a tendency for ‘readers’ to scorn Keyes as trash, fair enough. But I really really like her. I do like ‘proper’ books, and I will read and enjoy classics, but I will not be ashamed to have Marian on my shelves and in my life and I’m kind of sick of other people being so. Marian has brought many women to reading for the first time- this cannot be a bad thing. Even my sister (when not reading about sexually frustrated seventeen year old vampires) loves Marian, and always has, and always gets bought the newest one for Christmas off my Dad, whilst I, the ‘serious’ reader get the latest edition of ‘The Second Sex’ and Jon Pilger’s journalism collections (not that I am in any complaining, both are excellent and make my shelves look very phat, plus now desperately need a copy of The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford- anyone, anyone at all? Birthday now not for over year!). I would really recommended that people read her books before judging her, and therefore her readers, as somehow second best. She is always top of the bestsellers, long may she reign.
This month I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’- though on top of the current book club selection was feeling a bit ratted out. Also rediscovered an old favourite Robin Jarvis- loved his books when I was about 10 and re-reading ‘The Oaken Throne’ is bringing back many happy memories. Also finished ‘The Secret Scripture’ by Sebastian Barry which I thought was just beautiful and will be lending out shortly.