Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Woman Who Stole my Life by Marian Keyes (2014)

Marian Keyes is often considered a chicklit author. Her covers are invariably released in shades of pastel, pink and purple with the title and author name written in friendly, glittery or metallic letters. This bright and breezy presentation belies the content of her books which, despite their engaging and often hiliarous content, deal with serious issue such as grief (Is There Anybody Out There?), domestic violence (This Charming Man), depression (The Mystery of Mercy Close) and alcoholism (Rachel’s Holiday). She is a great writer and deservedly one of Ireland’s most success authors.

Her newest novel, The Woman Who Stole My Life, tells the story of Stella Sweeney. Stella is 41 and one-quarter years old, of average height, and has just arrived back in Dublin in disgrace after having achieved great success (doing what, we don’t know). Her ex-husband Ryan has suddenly found karma and is giving away all of his worldly possessions in the belief that because of this good deed, the universe will provide for him. Stella, however, does not believe in karma. She says:

Once upon a time, something very bad happened to me. As a direct result of that very bad thing, something very, very good happened. I was a big believer in karma at that point. Then another bad thing. I am currently due an upswing in my karma cycle, but it doesn’t seem to happening. Frankly, I’ve had it with karma.

Telling the story largely through flashback, we find out that Stella’s “very bad” thing was getting Guillian-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune condition that caused Stella to become fully paralaysed, only able to move her eyelids. With her neurologist, Mannix Taylor, Stella is able to devise a system where she can communicate by blinking, and she and Mannix form an unusual and unorthodox relationship.

I felt that The Woman Who Stole my Life is the most grown-up Keyes book I’ve read. Stella and her best friend Jo are both divorced and dealing with the fallout from their relationship breakups on their family life and finances. Stella’s fabulous sister Karen has two small children and a business to run. Because of this, Woman has much less of the female/family bonding and humour that characterise her previous novels. I missed it but it makes this book more realistic, because as we get older our priorities do change. This realism came at the cost of some of the richness of the secondary characters – they were perhaps a bit more one-dimensional than I have become used to. However, Stella is lovely and likeable and I very much enjoyed her narrative voice.

In conclusion, this is not my favourite Marian Keyes novel (that honour remains with Sushi for Beginners) but it’s a great read and a lot of fun. Three and a half stars.

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