Marian Keyes is ahead of the game. One thinks Chick-Lit and her name comes up. She has made that name for herself over the years with regular releases and generous helpings of her irrepressible Irish humour. Her books are the ultimate in modern women’s holiday reading.
First Published: 2008
Date Reviewed: 10th May 2009
Copies of This Charming Man are currently sitting on shelves in every book store and supermarket in the UK; it’s star-struck and ironically charming cover self-assured in it’s ability to catch the eyes of passers by. The grey background of the otherwise glossy cover speaks volumes, though they are best reserved for an epilogue wherein the plot cannot be spoiled.
I admit I had serious troubles in finishing my last attempt at a Keyes novel, Angels, which seemed to go nowhere and had as much interesting content as a bottle of flat lemonade, but something made me want to give the woman a second chance and the knocked down price was tempting.
The plot revolves around three women (the blurb says four but the fourth gets little airplay) trying to make head and tails of the sudden marriage of one Paddy de Courcy, a politician with an impeccable record. Each have had more than their fair share of history with the man and the book studies them as they move from pain to happiness.
There’s Lola, Paddy’s girlfriend, a stylist with Molichino hair – purple, to use a non-Prada-fan’s word. There’s Grace, a journalist, and there’s Grace’s sister Marnie who fifteen years on is still not over Paddy and has let her anguish rule her life. The book focuses on each of them, chapter by chapter, sometimes running parallel and at other times giving details about one character for one period of time. Lola just wants to get her life back together, Grace wants to frame Paddy for the hurt he’s caused her family, and Marnie is still waiting in hope that he’ll come back to her while she drinks and loses her children and husband.
On the face of it the book is very stereotypical of the genre, an easy read that is as predictable as it is un-stimulating, and it takes a good half or so of the story for this to change. What starts out as a light gushy read turns into a rather sinister exploration of domestic violence and at times it’s quite frightening. The first displays of this come at the end of the first chapter but it’s like a sub-plot, almost a completely different story that bares no relation to the main one. But as the book continues and connections between each character start to form the reason for the notes become clear. It’s a cleverly planned device that creeps up on you before you realise what’s happened.
The chapters have all been given individual treatment depending on which character is in focus. Lola’s take the form of diary entries and are quite sparse in punctuation and grammar. This can come as a shock at first and will prove an irritation if one is looking for an emotive read as the emotions are lost in the errors; but all entries are dated in detail and it appears Keyes has put a lot of effort into making sure she never re-uses a particular time of day. Grace’s chapters are narrated by the author and written in full as are Marnie’s, however whereas Grace’s are typical narratives Marnie’s are drenched in repetitive sentences and thoughts as she becomes ever more a slave to the drink.
As expected for a book revolving around domestic and sexual violence, sex is referred to many times, though a good amount of that time is reserved for innuendo of a far more innocent if explicit nature. There is also plenty of swearing and racial humour, the latter being written in such a way as to subtly condemn racism. There is little in the way of “big words”, any book lover looking for a masterpiece will not find it in this release.
The biggest drawback of the book is sadly part of Keyes’ writing style. It often drags for short periods of time during which a closing of it and finding something else to do strikes as preferable. Thankfully as the story hits crunch time the narrative speeds up considerably. The other drawback, in a way, is the page number and the reasons for why it appears so long. The font is big, there is a lot of dialogue, constantly going back and forth in short blips between characters, and many breaks in parts. If structured like a regular novel the book would lose a good third or so of its thickness.
But away from these negatives stands a solid look at society today and many of the issues facing it. Keyes demonstrates a large amount of awareness for the world and a heart full of passion for it. The book forces you to really think about things that you may not want to or feel comfortable with and that is it’s biggest success. By wrapping her novel in a coat of Chick-Lit silk Keyes has brought those issues to the forefront of her fan’s minds while still holding up on her promise of an escapist fantasy.
It’s pleasurable, it’s fun, it’s fearfully realistic – and it’s all in one package.