Book review: The Break by Marian Keyes

4/5 stars.

Audible version, narrated by Aoife McMahon.

It’s already been months since I finished this read – or rather, listen – I’m so behind on my reviewing! I’m going to try and keep some of them a little shorter so I don’t feel completely daunted by the mere idea of reviewing the backlog.

So this kept coming up as a recommendation for me, but I’ve been steering clear of Marian Keyes because she writes chick-lit, and I had this idea in my head that all chick-lit is bad. Like, bad story, bad writing, unbelievable endings, two-dimensional characters, etc. I’m delighted to be proved wrong.

Sure, there’s a lot of obsession about clothes and make-up and what the neighbours think, but underneath all that is genuinely good, gripping and believable story, and a lot of humour.

It’s kind of an ensemble cast (big Irish family), though the main character is the middle aged PR woman Amy O’Connell. The story starts when Amy’s husband Hugh, father of her youngest child, decides that he wants a break from their marriage to travel around South-East Asia to find himself, and possibly find.. Well, to be blunt: other women. But he totally loves Amy and he’s totally coming back… Yeah. Hugh is having something of a mid-life crisis. Amy got pregnant when their relationship was still pretty new, they got married and had a child early on, and his father has recently passed away. He’s having one of those “there’s got to be more to life than this” moments. And I get that. I don’t necessarily get the taking a break from your wife bit, but I can understand that he needs some time to sort himself out and figure out what he wants out of life.

Naturally, his leaving breaks Amy’s heart (and mine), as she loves her husband very much. And she’s concerned about the kids: their teenage daughter Keira, the sort-of adopted and very fragile teenage girl Sophie – who is actually Amy’s brother’s kid, and Niamh*, Amy’s 22 year old daughter from her first marriage who still lives at home. And she’s overly anxious about how other’s will perceive their split, but I guess that comes with the territory of working in PR. Plus, that seems to be the kind of world Amy lives in – there’s a definite Wisteria Lane vibe going on.

It’s a fairly long book, and there’s a lot going on, both with Amy, the kids and their friends and family. But it’s well structured and easy to follow, also as an audio book.

Speaking of audio, the narrator, Aoife McMahon, is possibly the best I have ever heard (maybe bar Stephen Fry narrating Sherlock Holmes). Her voice is pleasant, her reading is natural and seemingly effortless, she does great voices, and there’s impressive attention to detail. Like for instance if someone says something with a smile, you can hear the smile. She is downright amazing and I would consider listening to another book narrated by her just for that.

The story alternates between the current timeline and chapters from Amy’s past, telling of her first marriage, its traumatic ending, the early days with Hugh and also an incident about 1,5 years prior to the main story – which sheds some more light on Hugh and Amy’s relationship problems. Maybe Hugh’s leaving wasn’t as out of the blue as it initially seemed.

In addition to dealing with with her husband’s need to self actualise, Amy has to do everything around the house while he’s gone, try to make sure the kids are OK, pay the bills, keep her clients happy at work and generally keep up appearances outwards. She is also preparing for the possibility that Hugh might not come back, and trying to figure out what she wants.

Oh, and her dad is getting more demented by the day, and her mother is flipping out as she’s stuck in the house with him most days and he only remembers who she is half the time. Though of course dementia is a serious issue – and I wouldn’t say the book makes light of it – Amy’s big, quirky, Irish family provides a lot of humour and warmth.

Though there’s a lot of characters Marian Keyes manages to make them all come alive, and they’re pretty much all likeable and fun. Likewise there are many smaller storylines branching out from the main one of Amy and Hugh, but they’re all interesting and I feel like everything that happens makes sense and everyone stays true to character.

I really enjoyed this book and would definitely try another novel by Marian Keyes.

Well, so much for keeping it short…

 

*Spelling assumed as I listened to it on audiobook and I know the Irish have a penchant for spelling names in wonderfully confusing ways. Case in point, the narrator’s name is Aoife, which is apparently pronounced “Eefa”.

 

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