I read a few novels by Marian Keyes (a.k.a. the Irish Queen of Chick Lit), but while I enjoyed them all to various degrees most of them fall into the “read once and forget” basket. This book had stuck with me though, I’ve just re-read it for the second time in two years and loved it as much as when I first read it. At nearly 900 pages (set at a pretty large font mind you), it’s a breeze and pleasure to read.
The story starts with the engagement announcement of Paddy de Courcy, an Irish politician, which comes as a huge surprise to Lola, a stylist for the society ladies, who until then believed herself to be his exclusive girlfriend. Naturally, Lola is a total wreck, and on her friends’ interference she moves to Knockavoy, a tiny place on the coast of Ireland.
From then on, the story switches between Lola and three other women: Grace, a tough no-nonsense journalist, her troubled twin sister Marnie, and Alicia, Paddy’s fiance (though her presence in the book is minimal compared to the others). The different character chapters have their own writing styles: Lola’s is more like diary entries, with lots of short sharp sentences and skipped nouns; Grace is written from a first-person perspective and Marnie and Alicia’s are third person narratives. Their stories are even set in different fonts, one of them looking a bit too much like Comic Sans which bugged me a bit. It’s a designer thing.
The chapters are interspersed with creepy interludes detailing scenes of horrible domestic abuse, which as the book progresses becomes one of its main themes: violent men and the women who get trapped in abusive relationships with them. Also, one of the characters is revealed to be an alcoholic; apparently the author herself had struggled with alcoholism and depression and the descriptions of the character’s self-destructive behaviour and inability to quit or even acknowledge the problem ring true. But despite this heavy stuff the book is actually very funny.
Keyes’ writing has a likable, natural style and down-to-earth sense of humour (with some amusing Irish expressions), with the funny bits and darker themes in perfect balance where none diminishes the other. Lola’s subplot in Knockavoy, where her stylist skills become useful in a way she (and the reader) would have never anticipated, is particularly hilarious. This being a Marian Keyes book there’s also romance and happy endings which are a tad too happy, but what the hell I loved them too.