Stella Sweeney is a beautician in Dublin. Her husband Ryan is a thwarted artist (his talent was never recognised or appreciated but he has channelled his gift into making posh bathrooms for posh people); they are parents to a teenaged boy and girl who require a lot of supervision and organising, and it is a source of great pride for her to know that despite she and Ryan’s working-class origins, they can afford (just) to send their children to an exclusive private school. Nothing but the best for Jeffrey and Betsy. They are Stella’s main focus in life; her reason for getting up in the morning. Ryan is another matter – his main focus seems to be on his business, then Ryan: the grand passion that controlled their young lives has now disappeared, lost in the stresses and strains of everyday living – so what else is new? This is what happens to us all, and that is the secret of Marian Keyes’s success: her great ability to recount stories of people just like us, her readers; people we can identify with so easily.
Where Ms Keyes starts to leave reality behind is the unbelievable misfortune Stella suffers when she contracts Guillain-Barré Syndrome, ‘an auto-immune disorder which attacks the peripheral nervous system, stripping the myelin sheaths from the nerves’. Got that? The body can recover eventually, but until that happy day, Stella spends a huge amount of time in hospital, paralysed and unable to communicate at all – except after a time to establish a winking, blinking code with a hunky neurologist who – quelle horreur! – eventually becomes her (gasp) lover! How could this happen to someone who couldn’t move a muscle for more than a year? And what about hubby and the kids? A? A? More importantly, how does a writer convince her readers that this is just an everyday occurrence? Well, I have to say with some regret, that she didn’t convince ME – which is a shame, because I was entirely willing to suspend belief – up to a point.
Never mind, though: for the most part, Ms Keyes writes beautifully of what she knows i.e. the publishing world, this time exposed in all its two-dimensional ugliness, and her supporting characters are as strongly drawn as ever. Lastly, let us not forget her biggest virtue as a writer: humour. That wonderful Irish variety of humour, so inimitable and so vital; such an arsenal against all the troubles that beset us ordinary folk and without which we would be defenceless indeed. Ms Keyes may have missed the bus with ‘The Woman who Stole my Life’, but I’ll be waiting for her at the next stop.