Monday, 5 March 2018

The Break, by Marion Keyes

It has been too long since Marion Keyes’s last novel (see January 2015 review below) – too long between laughs and Ms Keyes inimitable chronicles of dysfunctional Irish family life. Well, family life in general, really, for her characters are instantly recognisable to us all; they are our neighbours, friends, workmates – they are us, whether we acknowledge it or not.

The O’Connell family meet every Friday at Mum and Pop’s for a meal provided by one of the five siblings – It’s Amy’s turn tonight and take away Pizzas will have to do; she is perennially short of time - and money; she has two teenagers to care for and a twenty-two year old daughter from a disastrous first marriage who lives at home, but only because she has to. Amy has recently started a new PR business with two colleagues which has yet to make a profit, but the paramount worry is her husband

Hugh, devastated by the recent loss of his beloved father and brother. He is a different person, remote and unreachable, a stranger to them all, and his solution to the way he feels is to Take a Break. To back-pack solo round Thailand. For six months. By himself. Without Amy or any of his family. WTF????

And how will she break it to the family? Pop, who has Alzheimer’s and addresses everybody as ‘WHO THE FECK ARE YOU??!! Mum, who wants to break out from under the Selfless Carer’s yoke by sneaking off to the Pub with other Selfless Carers for a bit of fun – ‘I got drunk and won a Pub Prize. Turkish Delight, the Mint kind! - bossy eldest sister Maura who understandably has issues, having to be surrogate mum while her own mother was in hospital with TB for months on end. Her husband is called the Poor Bastard because he never gets a word in edgeways, especially on a Friday night when everyone and their kids make an appearance – no, it is not a suitable forum to discuss Hugh’s grief and his insane solution to make himself feel normal again.

Ms Keyes effortlessly navigates the shoals and currents of family life, especially as she tackles through the experiences of one of her teenage protagonists the archaic and rigid Abortion laws of Ireland; nor does she shy away from the all-powerful and pervasive effect of Social Media on the life of everyone – even Mum, who becomes the face of EverDry, an Incontinence product marketed by Amy’s firm: Mum is heartbroken when the campaign ends – that was her Moment in the Sun, even if it was to promote Wee Pads!

Amy’s huge problems are not solved overnight – or in Hugh’s six-month escape, but her big, messy family moves on, bearers of unwanted advice, takeaway dinners (Derry’s are the best; no-one stays away on a Friday night when it’s her turn) and unity. Always unity, because that’s what families do best, isn’t it?

Fair play to you, Ms Keyes, you’ve written a grand story again, so.


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