The Woman Who Stole My Life

by Marian Keyes

**spoilers*

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

Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married

by Marian Keyes

“I despised him for liking me so much. I wondered how he could settle for so little.”

I’m afraid I am going to have to give Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married just 3 stars. 5 stars for the writing, humor, and character development and one star for Lucy herself. I just got fed up with her. I could easily rant and rave for paragraphs about how painfully blind and ignorant she was about everything throughout the whole book. But I won’t. (How could any modern woman think a pill or acupuncture could cure alcoholism?) Psychologically, I understood from the beginning why she fell into a relationship with a piece of pond scum like Gus, but why did she allow herself to be bullied by Karen? It’s explained at the end why she was so mean to the too-good-for-her Daniel, but I still couldn’t stand it. We are told how clever she is, but she is shown to be just the opposite page after page.**spoiler**

Also, the end could have included more of a mending of her relationship with her mother once the lightbulb finally came on. Lucy was cruel and mean to her. She dealt with Lucy’s father, the useless drunk, for 30 years. And Lucy barely lasted a couple of months. Where was the love, gratitude, sorrow, and compassion for her poor mother? I at least needed an apology. This was a major letdown and to me a big flaw in Lucy’s road to self-awareness and growth.**end spoiler**

I listened to this on audio and the narration for all of the female characters was excellent. The men’s voices were really bad though. Especially our hero, Daniel. Anne McCallister made him sound like a punch drunk blockhead. **3 stars out of 5**

February 21, 2021

The Break

By Marian Keyes

“I should have learned mindfulness, and it’s too late now because it’s no good learning it when you’re already in crisis: you have to start when things are good. But only the very, very oddest would think, Hey, my life is perfect. I know! I’ll sit and waste twenty minutes Observing My Thoughts without Judgement.”

“Worse, neither of us has liked any of the other’s Facebook posts, the modern equivalent of pistols at dawn.”

Another really really good book by Marian Keyes. I didn’t like the narrator as much as The Mystery of Mercy Close so it just didn’t quite make it to 5 stars for me. She was a little too soft-spoken and restrained. After listening to 2 Irish books in a row, I am even thinking with an Irish accent right now!

Another thing that held the excellent novel from being a “5” was I felt Amy was very hypocritical and full of unjustified rage at Hugh for much of the book, and Hugh was a little too good to be true. Yes, he did leave her but…He was very nice about it! I tried to buy into Amy’s side completely and share her anger, but I couldn’t 100%. Her rage and grief seemed over the top and a little tedious at times. I can’t judge Amy for her feelings, but she did not have the insight to see her role in why Hugh left. But Marian makes sure the reader realizes what Amy didn’t until near the end after Hugh returns.

It was very insightful and thought-provoking with lots of humor and lots going on with Amy, her mother, her children, and her workplace. Each part of Amy’s life, especially her children, are drawn to perfection. As always a very satisfying if predictable ending with a lovely epilogue which ties everything up very very nicely. **spoiler**

OOPs! except for one thing. I really really wanted Amy to have an encounter with the Serbian artist she adores so much; or at least obtain one of her paintings for herself. I honestly believe Marian set the book up for that to happen, but she forgot about or it was edited out.**4 stars out of 5**

October 20, 2020

The Mystery of Mercy Close

By Marian Keyes

“He’d done his walls with paint from Holy Basil. God, I yearned for their colors. I hadn’t been able to afford them myself but I knew their color chart like the back of my hand. His hall was done in Gangrene, his stairs in Agony and his living room–unless I was very much mistaken–in Dead Whale. Colors I personally very much approved of.”

This book was hilarious, I wish I could just quote and quote from it, but I listened to it on Audio. At some point in the future I’ll have to read-read it, but I loved the Irish accent and style of the narrator, Caroline Lennon. As with all of Marian Keyes’ novels, this one deals with some dark themes, so the humor can be very black. In this one, Helen, the youngest Walsh sister, suffers from clinical depression, which has led to a suicide attempt and continual thoughts of suicide. Keyes description and exploration of this condition are harrowing. It seems impossible that it could be a source of humor, but with Helen’s voice, it is.

I loved the inclusion of Helen’s family in the story, although some glimpses were brief, some are pretty substantial. It’s a treat for those who have followed the trials, tribulations, and joys of the Walsh family over the years. For example, we learn who the man is that Anna’s late husband( Anybody Out There?) foretells for her. “I can’t give you his exact identity…But I can tell you, you know him already.” And that is all we know at the conclusion of that book.

Besides the Walshes, the other secondary characters are wonderfully drawn, especially Bella, one of her boyfriend’s children. Speaking of boyfriends, I wasn’t sure until the very near the end who exactly Helen was going to end up with. Marian really had me worried a number of times.

The “Mystery” which drives the plot of the book is somewhat of a MacGuffin. Helen has been hired by her rogueish and attractive ex-boyfriend to find Wayne, “the Wacky one” in the has-been boy band who are trying to stage a comeback. It is a legit mystery. He has disappeared off the face of the earth. Is he still alive? Was he murdered? If the reader follows closely, all of the clues are there as to where Wayne is. We are really more entertained by Helen’s life, her thoughts and musings, her reminiscences, and the people she meets along the way and her interactions with them. And most of all, what her fate will be.

I will only say, everything climaxes is a perfect ending and a very satisfying conclusion to the saga of the Walsh family. And I wish that Holy Saint Basil’s paint colors were not fictional.**5 out of 5 stars**

September 20,2020

Grown Ups

by Marian Keyes

Her self-loathing was monumental, and although she understood in her head that anorexics lived lives of misery, in her heart she envied their discipline.

Marian Keyes is such a talent. One of the reasons I think she is such a good writer is that her work does not follow a tried and true template. The plots of her books all take their own path as they wind their way to her satisfying conclusions. This one incorporates just a smidgeon of a Lianne Moriarty dynamic. We are presented with “Now” in which several secrets are about to be revealed in the middle of a family get together (one of many in the book). A big blow-up that will threaten to derail a close family is minutes away. Then we go back in time to reveal step by step what led to what is about to be laid bare. Although Keyes wit and humor are not left by the wayside, the black comedy and snark are not as rollicking as in many of her books, particularly the Walsh family chronicles. I think it may be because this one is told in 3rd person, not first person, so we lose those crazy Walsh sisters’ crazy voices.

This story centers around 3 brothers and their wives and children. It also brings in former in-laws, friends, and business associates. Let me advise right off the bat, for anyone thinking of reading this, to go ahead and print out the family tree provided by the author. Without it, I think you will be pretty lost. I was almost half-way in before I was comfortable not having the family tree in one hand, and my kindle in the other. Helpful hint: I also made short little notes of each of the family members’ personality traits. I had to do this for Crazy Rich Asians as well. At first, the family members appear normal good people. Not perfect. A little flawed. But perfectly functional. As the story progresses, dark underbellies are revealed. As in most of her books, despite the humor, serious and painful issues are addressed. I won’t specify all, but the most affecting is an eating disorder that has plagued one of our main characters for years. Marian Keyes’s exploration of food addiction, seems so true to life in all of its ugliness and its emotional toll, that it is obvious her own experience with addiction and depression greatly informed her knowledge and empathy.

The book winds its way towards a largely satisfying or hopeful conclusion, depending on the family members. Not all of the loose ends are completely tied up, and not everyone gets the justice they deserve. There is some mess left unresolved but it is small Irish potatoes compared to the lives that are given new leases and the relationships that are saved.

I’ve made this book sound very serious. It’s also a lot of fun. **5 stars out of 5 **

September 20, 2020

The Last Chance Saloon

by Marian Keyes

I didn’t like this book solely because of Tara and Katherine the two protagonists. Tara was the main source of my ire throughout 80% of the book. Katherine certainly had her problems, but my disgust at her behavior during the last 10% of the book was so strong that I would have to put them on equal footing as the source of my reluctant disappointment. It’s funny. The last two novels I read left me unimpressed because the writing was such that I didn’t feel invested in the story or the characters. In this one, I felt too invested! I wanted to choke both of these women.

In this saga (and at around 600 pages, it qualifies as such-even though I listened to it on Audible) We follow the London lives of Irish Tara, Katharine, and their friends Fintan, Sandro, and Liv. Everything is from Tara and Katherine’s point of view, so theirs are the thoughts and feelings we are privy to throughout. They have both struggled with their relationships with men their whole lives and everything comes to a head when Fintan is diagnosed with what appears to be terminal cancer. Floating around in the background is scum of the earth Lorcan Larcan, seemingly unrelated to our band of friends until we get to over halfway through. Tara is in an abusive relationship with the heinous Thomas. Whom she refuses to leave because she feels she is in “The Last Chance Saloon”. That is, she is convinced that if she leaves him, she will be without a boyfriend for the rest of her life, and that is absolutely the worst fate that can happen to a woman. She is 31 (thirty-one). 31! Abuse (mental only) piles on abuse, cruelty upon cruelty, hatefulness upon hatefulness, and she keeps making excuses for him and ignoring how miserable she is in sheer desperation not to be alone. Except that she has the best friends in the world. Alone=no boyfriend. Really, Marian? This continues throughout 80% of the book until Fintan makes her promise to leave Thomas before he dies. Even then it takes her too long to actually do so. And even when she does, she is only prevented from going back by the vigilance of her best friend Katherine. It was just too much. I couldn’t stand it.

Katherine was actually an interesting and likable character despite her quirks. Her story was the salvation of this book until it wasn’t. She is a closed-up control freak in her office and with men. She has a history of sabotaging her relationships with men and leaving them, so they don’t hurt her. At the time of this story, she has shut down completely and will not let any man in. Not that they’d want to. Although beautiful, she is an “ice queen.” To her friends, she is a wonderful girl. To their friends, both Katherine and Tara are sweet, fun, and generous. One day, Joe comes into her life. For Joe, it is love at first sight. He sees past the unbending cold façade she wears at work to the lovable person she is underneath. He is handsome, sexy, and best of all, a wonderful, great, decent guy. After an encounter with the previously mentioned Lorcan, he becomes, at least to me, a superhero. After many struggles with herself and at the behest of dying Fintan, Katherine lets Joe into her life, and they embark upon a serious and seriously happy relationship.

When the book is almost finished, Katherine does something so awful, that I actually couldn’t believe it. It brought the book down from 3 or 3 and 1/2 stars to 2 1/2 stars. In this last section, We finally see where Lorcan figures into the life of one of our protagonists, and he finally gets his long-time-coming final goose-cooking.

Marian Keyes is a wonderful writer. I love her. There are many both touching and funny parts in this book. All of the many characters are beautifully drawn in that you really love them or really loathe them. Even with Tara and Katherine, I couldn’t really hate them as people, but as women, I was really horrified at some of their actions and thoughts. Milly Johnson once wrote a character who was as weak, oblivious, and self-destructive, In fact, she’s written several. A Summer Fling for just one example. In those books, though, they were only a third or a fourth of the story. In LCS, Tara and Katherine are 75% of the story. Thankfully, the conclusion abounds with happy hopeful endings, despite their many efforts to be miserable for the rest of their lives. **2 1/2 out of 5 stars**

June 6, 2021