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She is so vulnerable, confessing that she "bloomed under the warmth of [Adam's] interest" (Keyes 111). Her family is so kooky we wonder if they will actually help her regain her crushed self-esteem. Yet, we somehow know that Claire will bee all right. She is too funny, too optimistic, and too likeable for Keyes to destroy by giving her anything but a happy ending. As readers, we may not be able to guess how the book will end, but we feel confident that the ending will be a satisfying one and that Claire's problems will be brought to resolution.
This Charming Man is a foray into the problem of domestic violence. The character who gives the book its title is Paddy de Courcy, a political figure who may call to mind John F. Kennedy -- handsome, charming, and popular with ladies. It is a departure from Watermelon in that the story is narrated by not one character but four. It is also a much, much darker tale that does not provide, perhaps, an ending that is as satisfactory. Paddy did some terrible things and the consequences he suffered were too light. However, that is perhaps Keyes' point that the perpetrators of this sort of violence seldom suffer as much as we feel is necessary. The reluctance of the four women to pursue a jail sentence for Paddy is testimony to the power he had over them, even though he was abusive. Women who have never experienced this type of relationship will be puzzled at the extent of Paddy's control; women who have, unfortunately, shared this type of experience may see themselves and understand.
Readers who prefer a more light-hearted Keyes will delight in Sushi for Beginners, which has all the elements of traditional "chick lit": an awkward but loveable heroine with whom we can identify, a boss we love to hate, and a work situation most of us could only dream of, a position in the editorial offices of a fashion magazine. Like The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisburger, Sushi for Beginners gives us a glimpse into a world we look at with envy, and we are satisfied when it turns out to be as cut-throat as we have always suspected. Like Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding, the book draws us in by enabling us to identify with its main character. Even if we have actually have little in common with Sushi's Ashling, they will recognize her vulnerability and recall moments when they felt the same way. Readers will appreciate that Ashling recognizes just who she is and is ultimately comfortable with herself: "I'm one of life's second-in-commands, and we're just as important as leaders" (Keyes, n. pg). Again, Keyes' wry sense of humor shines through. Early in the book, a character enumerates a list of fictitious Irish magazines, including The Catholic Judger, a food magazine called Spud, and a women's magazine called The Hip Hibernian (Keyes n. pg). All are humorous plays on Irish culture, which adds to the book's charm.
In The Other Side of the Story, Keyes gives readers three female characters whose lives are intertwined because of their relationships to one man. Anyone who has been the "other woman" or has been wronged by the "other woman" will appreciate the way the author captures the feelings of sadness, disappointment and heartbreak. Readers will also be able to vicariously enjoy the revenge that is exacted. Who among us has not been broken-hearted and dreamed of revenge? In Is Anybody Out There?, Keyes once again manages to be very funny while transporting her character through devastation and healing. Last Chance Saloon, published in 2001, is a bit Bridget Jones, a bit Sex in the City, as three characters in their thirties yearn to find Mr. Right yet seem destined to be emotionally mired in relationships with Mr. Wrong. Like Sex in the City's Carrie, Last Chance Saloon's female protagonist has a likeable gay male friend.
Keyes departed somewhat from the "chick lit" genre she is credited with creating in her most recent novel, The Brightest Star in the Sky. The setting, a Dublin apartment building, is what readers have come to expect from Keyes. The characters, too, are typically Keyesian, forty-ish Kate, who has a seemingly glamorous career and an unsatisfying relationship with her boyfriend, a twenty-something cab driver and her two roommates, an older woman who lives with her son, and a young couple who are not as perfect as they seem. The unusual premise of the book is the presence of the supernatural, which some readers may at first find off-putting because they do not expect to find it in a Keyes work.
There are a number of popular romances that use the supernatural. The Twilight series is perhaps best known, but Keyes' readers may also be familiar with Sherilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series or the much lighter, almost whimsical novels of Sarah Addison Allison (Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen). Although Brightest Star is a departure for Keyes in this respect, readers will still find enough of what they love about her books, humor, darkness, quirky characters, and optimism, to be pleased with this latest effort.
Keyes has also written some non-fiction. Under the Duvet is a collection of chatty, autobiographical stories. The subtitle gives readers a hint at some of the topics Keyes discusses: "Notes on heels, movie deals, wagon wheels, shoes, reviews, having the blues, builders, babies, families and other calamities" (Under the Duvet"[book review]). The "blues" to which Keyes so casually makes reference is the debilitating depression that she has battled most of her adult life.
There is no information available on Keyes latest activities, and no news about whether or not she is at work on another book. The last newsletter she wrote for her website appeared one year ago, May 2010. She told readers that she was much better, though there was no suggestion that she felt "cured" or that she would never again be in the throes of the utter despair she had faced just a few months earlier. Keyes appears to recognize that she has a terrible disease that can be managed but not cured. She provides no detail as to how she pulled herself from the blackest depression. She says nothing about either therapy or medication, only expresses gratitude to fans for their support. Her readers hope that she gets well and deliver more of the books they enjoy.
Keyes books have universal appeal because of their strong female characters, witty dialogue, humor and the triumph of likeable characters over adversity. Her books are very Irish in character largely because of this dichotomy of lightness and dark that so often finds its way into the work of Irish writers. Readers are charmed by the descriptions of Dublin's streets and shops, but it is ultimately contrast between light and dark that draws us in. Readers of Marian Keyes books know that both laughter and sadness are in store. Even though situations may be exaggerated, readers experience similar situations in their own lives and appreciate characters with whom they can identify.
Keyes, Marian. "Eleven Things About Marian." 2009. Web. 2 May 2011.
Keyes, Marian. "Laid Low." MarianKeyes.com. January 2010. Web. 2 May 2011.
Keyes, Marian. This Charming Man. New York: Harper Collins e-books. n.d. Kindle edition.
Keyes, Marian. Under the Duvet [book review]. Amazon.com. nd. Web. 5 May 2011.
Keyes, Marian. Watermelon. New York: Harper Collins e-books. n.d. Kindle edition.
Nolan, Yvonne. "Ireland's Wild Irish Rose." Publishers Weekly…[continue]
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