Reviews|

The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes

11th Jun 2010

The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes
Heartbreak. The worst of times for a 'normal' person, but for one crippled by serotonin imbalances and month-long compulsions to burrow under the duvet, it can be the nail in the emotional coffin. As someone who has suffered from such afflictions, I was devastated to find myself floored by epic heartbreak a few years ago.

Barely able to function, incapable of mustering a smile, and only soothed by playing Friends DVD’s on repeat, I was a useless lump of no-good and could not see an end in sight. Cue Big Sister Barlow swooping into my fug of sadness armed with a copy of Marian KeyesThe Other Side of the Story.

I’ll be the first to admit I was reticent about cracking open chick lit: I am a writer for goodness sakes. I am learned and well read. I devour the classics, for fun. Books about girls and feelings? Me? Absolutely not. Yet, in my weakened state, I was powerless to resist and thus began my relationship with the Keyes woman.

It was as though someone had wrapped me in a blanket, force-fed me tea and stroked my hair: with every sentence I read, a little part of my heartbreak was forgotten.

During those awful days when all you can do is pass the time until your feelings catch up with your brain, I spent hour after hour quietly and contentedly nosing through Marian’s back catalogue.

Many a time I have found myself lying in a tepid, sudsy bath, shivering and prune-like, yet bravely ploughing through each chapter because I simply must.The reason for her most wondrous healing power? Very simply, her warmth, humility, delicious sense of humour and astute observations. This is not vacuous nonsense about boys and shopping (although these themes do make fairly regular appearances) but rather genuine and enormously humorous explorations into ‘things that matter’.

Characters such as the entire Walsh family (oh Helen, how I love thee) and Lola Daly in This Charming Man are absolute triumphs. Her ability to simultaneously create pathos and humour (Anybody Out There) is second to none.

Not only is Keyes blessed with a quick wit, but she just writes really good stories. Stories that hook you from the first word, and refuse to let you go until you’ve devoured the final page.

I used to see Marian’s books as something to treasure and would save each one for truly troubled times. These days they sit proudly next to my classics and seminal feminist texts. I am a Keyesaholic, and I am proud.

You can grab yourself new and used copies of Marian’s gems on Amazon for as little as a penny!

Comments

  • Maggie Bob says:

    I feel exactly the same. I was introduced to Keyes by my Dad, of all people, after he and my Mum both devoured Rachael’s Holiday, and I was at a loss for something to read.

    x

  • I’m no book snob but I have been known to turn up my nose at chick lit. But I’ll definitely be giving Marian Keyes a go now! Fab review.

  • Sara says:

    I’ve only read Watermelon but was pleasantly surprised – I’d expected frothy nonsense but it was much darker and more interesting than that.

    Marian Keyes gives such good interviews too – hilarious and self-deprecating. And she writes so eloquently about her severe depression. Love her.

  • Diane says:

    I see nothing wrong with books about women and their feelings and I think if people do see something wrong with that, it’s actually pretty sexist.

    Also, Marian Keyes isn’t the only one putting out wonderfully-written, witty, thoughtful books for and about modern women. I edited a chick lit website for over a year and drivel was the exception, not the rule.

    Rachel’s Holiday is probably Marian’s best, by the way.

    • Jane Bradley says:

      Thanks Diane, all I meant in my comment is that a lot of books by authors like Marian are perceived to be drivel, probably due to the way they are marketed. I can only speak from personal experience, but as you say some of it is drivel, and some is wonderfully written (I love Lisa Jewell’s books, for example). And I agree that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with books about women’s feelings, but I think the resentment some women have towards the genre is the perception that these books reinforce a stereotype that women only care about shopping and bagging a boyfriend. Whilst the books might have many other strengths, like clever plotlines, wonderful writing or strong characters, they way they’re marketed often focuses too much on those stereotypes (in my opinion), which makes a lot of women cynical about the chick-lit genre as a whole.

  • Diane says:

    Hi Jane,

    Yes, I think you’re right that there is a disconnect between the content of many chick lit books and their marketing, and thus how they are perceived. I think the media hasn’t helped misconceptions, either — when Maureen Dowd of the NYT laid into the genre as just about “sex and shopping”, it was clear she hadn’t actually read any, and was going by what she’d heard and cover images alone. She in turn no doubt influenced others, and the myths continue to be perpetuated.

    Jennifer Weiner (whose book In Her Shoes does, yes, mention shoes but is also a great book about sibling rivalry) has argued at length that the snobbery around chick lit (articles like Dowd’s plus the lack of review space, awards nominations etc) is sexist and it’s interesting to compare reactions to women’s romantic/comedic fiction to writers like Nick Hornby, who is often lauded for writing about the “male experience” when actually, his books are no more or less worthy than Weiner’s.

  • Jane Bradley says:

    Agreed, snobbery and sexism from the media definitely doesn’t help would-be readers’ gain an accurate perspective on what the books involve. And I think Jennifer’s point about Nick Hornby is spot on (although I personally would perceive Nick Hornby’s books to be the male equivalent of chick-lit, but I recognise that’s not what everyone think of them).

    However, I do think chick-lit as a genre is very interesting from a gender theory point of view, as it sometimes seems that the most hostile reactions to the genre are from women (like how so many of the recent vitriolic articles about Sex and the City came from women, as an example), whereas I don’t know of any men who react to ‘male experience’ writers like Nick Hornby with such a strong negative stance. But again maybe that’s because of the way chick-lit is marketed and stigmatised by the media, that women then object to what they believe to be fiction reinforcing gender stereotypes (without having read the books themselves), and that negative perception self-perpetuates.

  • Julia says:

    and from big sis to little sis to Ma to Nanny and so the wonders of Marian expands. So easy to pass many an hour.

  • Kaite says:

    I’ve only read Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday and I think a collection of essays/articles, but I really enjoyed them. My problem is that with comparatively little free time (day job, freelance writing career, starting a PhD), I don’t have much time to read something that I’m not reviewing/writing my thesis on. Do I use the snatched half hour before bed and the tube journey into work to read something that’s pure, unadulterated fun and not taxing, or should I be using it for something ‘serious’? My weakness isn’t really chick lit as much as it is young adult novels and historical fiction (which is sometimes just Chick Lit With Corsets), but even then I can’t shake the nagging feeling that I ought to be reading Something Important.

    • Jane Bradley says:

      Thanks for the comment Kaite, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! With so many demands on our precious time, it can be too guilt-inducing to indulge in this kind of reading material, but if it relaxes and recharges you, then you shouldn’t feel bad about it. When I’m too frazzled for ‘proper’ reading, I’ll always return to comfort reading that I know won’t be too demanding and keep me awake half the night (like good ‘ol Harry Potter).

  • Kaite – I think this is my very issue with Chick Lit! It’s not that I think it is ALL vapid, shallow, superficial phooey, but more that I always feel as though my time could be better spent reading something ‘educational’ and brain nourishing. Marian was such a lovely surprise because I feel as though I take something away from reading her books, which I have never done with any other Chick Lit before…