by Marian Keyes
I listened to this on audible, which I started about 3 weeks ago, so I’ll try to get this straight. The book starts out with Stella Sweeny attempting unsuccessfully to write a follow-up to a first book. She is back in Ireland after spending time promoting this first book in the U.S. Her first book seems to have been pretty successful and she is semi-famous. But she has come back to Ireland in disgrace. We don’t know exactly what happened, but it must be pretty bad. What happened to her? What did she do? Who is the man that keeps calling her telling her he misses her? What about her daughter? Who is Gina and why does she avoid thinking of her and knowing what’s happening with her? She lives with her hostile son, and her ex-husband, Ryan, is going off the deep end giving up all of his possessions in some kind of performance art and an attempt to reclaim his self-esteem and become as famous as his ex-wife.
From there we go back and forth in time. We learn how Stella, a working-class housewife, and beautician came to write her first book seemingly out of nowhere. Meanwhile, we follow Stella’s life in the present until her reminiscences of what happened in the last 5 years or so catch up with what’s happening now. So much happens. We meet so many people that have an important role in her life. There is a lot of humor and satire as well as a dark painful year where Stella is completely paralyzed because of a rare disease. Thanks to a brilliant neurologist who takes a special interest in her, she is saved from the intense physical pain she had to endure multiple times a day. He teaches her how she can finally communicate by blinking her eyes. He is an angel from heaven and a knight in shining armor. Even though she looks horrible, and can only communicate by blinking, they have a strong and special connection. By this time we know that Ryan, still her husband during these tribulations is a selfish jerk.
After she recovers, and after Stella and the doctor, Mannix, start divorce proceedings from their respective spouses, they meet up again and start an affair. They are head over heels in love with each other although Stella has constant doubt and fear due to the difference in their financial situations and social class.
After she breaks up with him because of pressure from her son and her family, Mannix sends her a gift to prove to her how much he loves her. He wants her back. You see, he had saved all of the notebooks he had filled up with their communications she had blinked out when she could not move or talk. He wrote an introduction and bound them together in a fine binding and had 50 copies privately printed for her to give to her family and friends. It’s a long story, but this is the book that ends up getting published by a top-flight New York publishing house.
I liked Stella and loved her voice, but I hated her behavior towards Mannix and her parenting of her difficult son. Basically, she treats Mannix like crap. She lets her son run roughshod over her out of guilt and she caters to her son’s selfish demands over Mannix’s needs every time. Mannix never wavers in his devotion. What does she have to feel guilty over? For getting sick and throwing her family into chaos. Ryan was a terrible parent during her year in intensive care, impatient, unsympathetic, and bored with her, and she feels guilty. Oy Vey. Although it started out great, Stella’s behavior after she recovers made this book kind of a chore to read.
It turns out the big scandal that sent her home in disgrace is very much an anticlimax. The only thing she has to be disgraced about is her own private behavior towards Mannix. The happy ending feels tacked on. She didn’t earn it. Not one bit. There is no justice in it. She gives up trying to write a second book, which is ironic, because, as her agent says, an account of everything that happened to her from her backstory, to her year in intensive care, to her family and friends, to her relationship with Mannix as her neurologist, to her adventures in America, would have made a much more interesting book that her lame little collection of sayings and words of “wisdom.” If she told a true candid tale, it would have been a real eye-opener to not only her family and friends, but shined a light on the terrible care she got from her doctors and nurses in Ireland. (except for Mannix.) Apparently, Ireland has a pretty good healthcare system. You would never know it from this book. I wish Marian Keyes had ended The Woman Who Stole my Life (don’t understand the title, exactly) with an addendum in which we learn that we had just finished reading Stella’s second book. **almost 3 stars.**
June 27, 2021