I was about 13 when I read my first Marian Keyes book – Sushi For Beginners, borrowed from my friend’s immaculate bookshelf during a sleepover. I took it home to finish it. To this day she has never received it back.
What I found in Marian is hard to explain, but immy try because if I know anything about the author – and I like to think I know a fair bit, since I follow her on Twitter (if you don’t you really should) as well as having read both her collections of essays – it’s that she appreciates her readers. Because her readers appreciate her books and Marian is never very far away from her books. In fact she’s in every page, with her mannerisms and colloquialisms and, of course, her addictions.
Marian Keyes suffers from depression, and it’s not something that she hides. It’s something that you might suspect from the themes and characters in her novels, but it’s not something she ever belies with her tone and spark. Marian Keyes is one of the very few authors I’ve ever read who can take something sincerely dark and unmitigatingly bad – death of a spouse, divorce, drug addiction, attachment issues – and make it not just funny, but hilarious. Her writing is energetic and passionate and alive and she sings from every single page, even if – possibly especially when – the character on that page is crying.
I have no problem with the category or characterization of chick lit but I think it’s a sad world we live in if no man ever reads Marian. There’s more to learn from her than, I would argue, 10 of that dire, dank kind of modern novel that leaves you with a headache and the feeling of having chewed on an unlit cigarette for an hour. She deals with pain and sadness and death; feminism and body issues and loneliness – she deals with, in short, many of the things most of us will deal with, with a light touch.
And I’ve been all of them her, characters, the Walsh sisters and otherwise.
I’ve been JoJo, powerful and confident and wiped out and diminished, suddenly and utterly, by the arrival of man.
I’ve been Lisa, in control of her life and certain, before one brick is taken away, and another, and another and the whole thing falls down. I’ve certainly been jealous Lisa, unable to be happy for a friend when that friend’s success outstripped my own.
I’ve been the ones I hate (you can’t hate any of Marian’s women, though, it’s not possible) – nasty Charlotte from Lucy Sullivan; cold Kat from Last Chance Saloon; addicted, lost Rachel from Rachel’s Holiday.
And god, have I known the men.
I believe that I picked up Marian at exactly the right time – I picked her up when I was beginning. I picked her up as a weird little child in New Zealand who read more than she should and knew that the world was bigger than her, but not where any of it was.
And she taught me so bloody many things:
How to eat sushi (I was a beginner).
How to identify alcoholic tendencies in a partner.
How to approach the publishing industry.
The power of red lipstick and the perfect pair of black trousers.
The dangers of drugs and what a cocaine addict might look like and also how to snort cocaine.
The best way of standing up from an inflatable chair.
The addictive appeal of make up.
The best way to drink a martini (must be complicated).
What it means when a man sends flowers.
How to talk to your depressed friend.
What the phrase “licking the mackerel” means.
The value of friendship.
The fickleness of men.
“Throwing a hotdog down a hallway”.
Why not to drive a convertible in LA.
How to flatten out a weird fringe.
What a personal stylist actually does.
How an abusive man can cover his tracks.
To trust my mother.
To never trust a woman named Gilda.
If you’ve never read Marian Keyes, do. Start with Rachel’s Holiday. No, start with The Other Side of The Story. No, This Charming Man. Or Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married.
Buy them all, lock yourself in a room and read them chronologically until you’re ready to come out. And you won’t be ready until you’re done.