An average Marian Keyes book is still good fun, and while this novel doesn’t hit the same heights as her best, there’s still enough humour and quirky details to make it an enjoyable read.
The story follows Stella Sweeney, a married Dublin mother of two, whose ordinary life, in a short space of time, turns rather mad: she gets a rare disease, falls in love with a man who’s not her husband and becomes a wannabe author through a loopy-yet-plausible twist of fate. The book’s timeline is split between Stella’s crazy times and the “present” timeline almost two years later, in which Stella is back in Dublin, broke, jobless and single, living with a teenage son who detests her and struggling to write anything other than typing “Arse” on a blank page over and over. I’ve nothing against the timelines device, but the problem is that the present timeline is narratively limp – virtually nothing happens and you get a feeling that it’s simply there to fill in the spaces between the drip-fed bits about Stella’s recent past, which is a lot more interesting to read about. I suppose it’s a way to create tension, but still. There’s one subplot about Stella’s ex-husband Ryan, who decides to give away all of his possessions in some kind of insane karma project, but again it’s just a page-filler that has little meaning for Stella’s story. There’s no real reason why it all couldn’t be told in a simple chronological order. Also, the major twist concerning the titular woman is both painfully obvious and doesn’t actually feel all that important to Stella’s story.
Despite these flaws, Keyes’ writing is as entertaining as ever, with a host of eccentric supporting characters, Irish vernacular, deft mix of light and dark, and some hilarious satire on the publishing industry later on in the book (one has to wonder how much of it is a slightly exaggerated version of the real thing). Stella can be a frustrating main character, but I did want things to turn out well for her. Something else the book touched on which I found intriguing is the social class differences and the way they can impact relationships – it was a nice touch of realism in an ultimately frothy book.