I’ve a cracker book to recommend this week- when you’ve been so driven to distraction by your children that your brain feels like the sponge cake batter you’ve been whisking up, there’s no one quite like Marian Keyes to lift you out of your funk. In May a friend left Grown Ups on my door step, and thankfully she legged it before I could break all social distancing laws and envelop her in a warm embrace. It’s been hard, this Lockdown, if you’re a habitual hugger.
I set to it that same evening, and over the following days, my house reached new levels of squalor as I took myself off into the garden to get reading it. There are a few recurrent themes in Keyes’s oeuvre, namely addiction, fidelity issues and family sagas. And yet, I never tire of her writing because she creates such vital characters. I get so invested in what happens to them, that I don’t care much whether she has touched on a topic before.
Grown Ups focuses on a big family drama about three brothers and their families, so there is a multitude of interlinked characters and it’s a joy to read while she untangles all their stories. She’s most adept, is Marian, at creating tension, and the best bits by far were when all the family got together at a posh ‘do’ or a holiday.
Perhaps you’ve been away on a weekend to a hotel, and you’ve seen those families, you know, those shiny sort of people, all perfectly coiffed and delighted with themselves. They always materialise when you’re feeling rotten, shoe-horned into an ill-fitting dress while your ungrateful progeny refuse to eat anything but chips and your husband’s already chugged down three pints to cope and it’s not even 7pm. Those are the times I look at other families and think ‘Would you look at those bastards. Haven’t they got it sorted?’ This is when Marian is your woman, because she knows, better than most, that they aren’t all sorted at all. Not one little bit. The poor sod who’s picking up the tab is necking gin so they can cope when they get the bill, which, on a trip to a posh hotel in Ireland will be the equivalent of the GDP of Gabon. Someone else will be longing to garotte their sister-in-law with her Hermes scarf and the nephew will be checking his watch to see how soon he can escape this forced felicity.
There’s a wonderful chapter where one of the brother’s attempts a to organise a murder mystery weekend for his wife Jesse, but makes the mistake of booking it out in the sticks in Antrim instead of a famous hotel in Perthshire. Having read about their Easter trip to a plush Estate in County Kerry, and the luxury to which his Jesse is accustomed, you can only chortle with mirth at this shambles that is ‘Gulban Manor.’
But being Marian Keyes, she touches on the deeper stuff too: the refugee crisis, on period poverty, and the reality of trying to find a decent home in Dublin if you’re neither loaded nor a property developer. And she reveals some sad but essential truths too, that some relationships just can’t be repaired, no matter what you do , and the lesson is learning how to accept that.
It’s not all froth and romance, but it’s effortless holiday reading which makes it perfect for this summer. When we haven’t a f**king clue what’s coming next, it’s great we have Marian Keyes to rely on.