Marian Keyes The Break

Image from NetGalley

I read this book back in July but there was an embargo on reviews until a week before publication and I always obey the publisher’s instructions! Thank you to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph for making this available on NetGalley in return for a fair review. I was really excited to win this one, because I’ve loved Keyes’ books for years and have read every single one of them! They were quite simple in the beginning and have developed over the years in terms of their characterisation and plot, but have had a recognisable combination of wit and good writing which have made them a no-brainer to pick up as soon as they come out. I was glad that this one didn’t disappoint, even though we’re back to a straightforward family story after the different locations and themes of her last few.

Marian Keyes – “The Break”

(10 July 2017 – NetGalley)

Marian Keyes likes to get us introduced to a large family of varied siblings and interesting parents and she’s done it again here, with a new family to get to know, with its Friday night gathering, catered by the siblings in turn since Dad got Alzheimer’s and Mum found it all a bit much, and including ex-partners and all sorts, because, as the heroine, Amy, explains, they’re modern.

Amy has assumed she’s safe and settled after her first marriage went wrong and they had to absorb her feckless brother’s daughter into their family, but now husband Hugh has announced that he needs a break … from their marriage, from their family, and from Ireland. But it’s not so simple: Amy has huge sympathy for Hugh, who has recently lost his dad and spiralled into depression – well, up to a point, anyway, and she stands to lose an old friendship over her lack of desire for revenge. Added to that, we slowly learn about a patch in their marriage when she might not have been as engaged as all that herself.

It’s pointed out to Amy that she’s by definition on a break now, too. Will she go and play the field or just plug on with her blended family and her PR job (I loved the descriptions of her working relationship with her two male partners, although a weird tension with one of them was never quite resolved, and it also gives her the opportunity to pop over to London every week, which seems completely normal, the work of a good writer technically).

Meanwhile, Amy’s daughter Neeve sees an opportunity for Amy to reconnect with her father, and so, it seems, does he – but can a leopard change its spots? Amy’s quiet mum, very ill when younger and now caring for her husband, has developed a secret social life and a new circle of friends, and also becomes an unlikely Internet star. I loved this storyline!

So, there’s a lot going on, a huge cast of characters, but we don’t lose track and can trust Keyes to steer us through. And while it’s bang up to date, with Facebook playing a role in the plot and the intricacies of liking and messaging adding depth to the description of strained relationships, the themes will outlast any slipping out of date that might occur – plus it’s good to record exactly how things are and what we use to communicate at various points in history. The book is full of Keyes’ trademark wit and charm, and uses one character to skewer modern searches for the meaning of life and others to discuss celebrity and reputation. I will share one quotation which I did love, when Amy is in crisis and wishing she’d learned about mindfulness in time to use it in this situation:

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.

In summary, a great read which will appeal to Keyes fans and more. There are two eating-disordered characters and some of their behaviours are described, I just wanted to add that content warning.