The Woman who Stole My Life
Penguin/Michael Joseph: €14.99; ebook, €8.92
Stella Sweeney’s life is a mess. Returned to Dublin from New York, her marriage is over, her son hates her, and her divorced best friend’s bitterness against men makes her the very worst company. When her ex decides to give away his house, his business and all his possessions in a misplaced exercise of Karma, it seems life is to become even more complicated.
No wonder the once svelte Stella has turned to Jaffa cakes for comfort. Keyes flits backwards and forwards in time in her sparkling latest novel. It opens when, Stella, attempting a good turn, has a minor car crash. Shortly afterwards she has a horrific brush with paralysis when she contracts Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and is temporally unable to move or to speak. Enter Mannix, a prickly neurologist who proves his worth when he devises a method of blinking by which he and Stella can communicate. Recovered, she becomes an accidental self-help author, and she goes to New York with her new man and two teenagers to live the dream. Soon though, it’s clear that the glamorous life of a bestselling author is not all its hyped to be.
The publicity is more than gruelling, and Stella can never quite trust that her ex-neurologist, the quite amazing Mannix, really loves her. Were it not for the support and friendship of Gilda, Stella’s gorgeous personal trainer and nutritionist, the frenzy of her schedule might make her life implode. The darkness we saw in Keyes latest clutch of novels has gone. The Woman who Stole my Life is laugh out loud funny, yet its full of substance and wisdom. It looks at friendship, parenthood, loyalty and disappointment, and it’s great at dissecting the vagaries of love. Stella recoils from Mannix’s more ardent declarations.
“You can’t call something love until everything goes wrong and you manage to survive it,” she says. “Love isn’t hearts and flowers. And it’s not good sex. Love is about loyalty. Endurance. Soldiering on, shoulder to shoulder.” If that makes the novel sound somewhat worthy, it’s anything but.
The structure works brilliantly, as Keyes unpeels her plot, and there’s a load of fun sex in the mix. There’s a sense that the author had a ball writing her book, and her enjoyment is infectious as the book has a glorious effervescent quality.
Writers will emphasise with Stella, as she sits, typing the word, ‘Arse’, trying, with increasing desperation, to write a follow up book. Couched as an ordinary woman to whom extraordinary things happen, she struggles with her self-worth, and blames herself for her own predicament and for the unhappiness of others. She’s never bitter, but will there be a happy ending for her?
There’s a great cast of characters in this novel, from the rude and ruthless agent Phyllis, to Stella’s daughter Betsy, a perpetual Pollyanna. Even the walk on ones, like Mrs Next-Door-Who-Has-Never-Liked-Me are consistently portrayed. In showing the agonies of the American publicity tour — zigzagging across the States, Keyes has clearly borrowed from her own life.
Stella also shares Keyes’s love of Twitter. And I suspect that Keyes self-confessed addiction for that media, helped her to hone the pithy one liners that pepper the book.
It’s great to see Marian Keyes well, and back on form, after the devastating depression that has dogged her in past years. This romantic sexy comedy would lift anyone’s spirits. My favourite of all her books, it’s a perfect antidote to the gloom of rain and water charges.
Published in The Irish Examiner 3rd January 2015
© Sue Leonard 2015