I’ll be honest: the last couple of Marian Keyes novels have lacked the pace I’ve grown to love about this bestselling author. In spite of this, when my copy of Keyes’ latest novel The Woman Who Stole My Life arrived on my doorstep, I couldn’t wait to tuck in. After all, she’s been with me on my chicklit journey since the very beginning. And my verdict? Ireland’s chicklit sweetheart is back, and I mean really back, with a book that is everything I hoped for. I couldn’t put it down.
Stella Sweeney lived an ordinary life as a mother and beautician until the sudden onset of a rare medical condition, called Guillain-Barré Syndrome, left her almost completely paralysed. After a hard-won recovery, Stella wrote a book filled with inspirational adages she thought of while immobilised in a hospital bed for months on end. One Blink at a Time fast became an overnight literary sensation, and Stella was living the dream in New York promoting it.
Now, she’s back in Dublin, alone and broke, with her two teenage children, trying to – very unsuccessfully – write book number two. Her now ex-husband, Ryan, decides he’s going to give away all of his possessions (including his bathroom design business) as “spiritual art”. Will she be able to stop him before it’s too late, break her addiction to chocolate coated jaffa-cakes, find a way to stay connected to her children, and overcome the seemingly epic failure of her life?
Keye’s strength as an author shines through with tightly woven storytelling that, initially, moves between Stella’s current life and the time she spent in her hospital. Where this complex double narrative could be confusing, instead it comes across as skilful, and the unfolding of Stella’s rags-to-riches-to-rags story is perfectly paced, revealing just enough to keep the reader hanging on.
Where Keyes always stands out the most for me is in her ability to tackle often-dark topics, such as the subject of depression in her last novel, The Mystery of Mercy Close. In The Woman Who Stole My Life the reader is confronted with the idea of a really bad and unexpected thing happening to upend a normal life and normal people. We are faced with the unfortunate tragedy of a family falling apart because of an illness that could have struck anybody – that could strike you. Keyes portrays Stella’s experience with her illness in a way that enables readers to visualise just what it would feel like. And, although Keyes handles her subject with sensitivity and mindfulness, it hits a nerve!
Best of all, as I hope – nay, expect – from every chicklit novel I pick up, The Woman Who Stole My Life is light-hearted and funny. I enjoyed some delightful laugh-out-loud moments, thanks to Keyes’ warm and relatable characters: Stella’s sister, Karen, makes for some enjoyable comic relief (and will have you questioning whether or not you should be wearing lady chinos; I loved witnessing Stella’s son, Jeffrey, as he tries to find himself, disappearing to his room to meditate with his friends; and Ryan, well, all you can do is shake your head and hope that nobody you know – and I know some who might – goes down that road.
The Woman Who Stole My Life is Keyes at her best. If you enjoy love and laughter, and are inclined to reach for the jaffa cakes when the drama strikes, you’ll feel right at home with Stella. And, if all else fails, there’s nothing a handsome doctor can’t fix. This book comes highly recommended.