The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes
Ah, the delightful Ms Keyes . . . as her constant readers know, plunging into one of her tales is like listening to the life story of a great raconteur in a pub where the drinks flow freely. She once said that “all her books are a comedy about something serious,” and indeed, her reputation (established over the course of 23 million copies of 10 novels since 1995) is as a writer who can peer at humanity’s dark spots while persuading you that we might just be all right in the end.
Most of the cast of her new novel, The Brightest Star in the Sky, reside in an apartment building at 66 Star Street, Dublin. Matt and Maeve, who occupy the ground-floor flat, are to all outward appearances blissfully married, though the relationship had a messy start, with each having to disentangle from a significant other. (At what price?.)
Jemima, ancient, wise and intolerant of the idiocy of youth, lives one floor above. In the flat above Jemima reside Lydia, a sassy taxi driver and her homesick Polish flatmates, Jan and Andrei. The men are alternately terrified of and frustrated by Lydia, who refuses to lift a finger in service of household cleanliness, on the grounds that she already does too much of it. (But where?.)
The uppermost floor is home to career woman Katie, who as we meet her is engaged in a tense discussion with her corporate raider boyfriend Conall, who doesn’t live with her and who believes that the best way to resolve conflict with any female is to open his wallet.
Thus the stage is set for break-ups, trysts and the dusting off of each apartment dweller’s closeted skeletons. The novel’s conceit is that someone, or something, is watching over the characters and looking to settle in one of the apartments, and is on a tight schedule – the story opens on Day 61 and an unexplained countdown begins. For readers with an aversion to magical realism or pseudo-religious hyperbole, fear not; the author, never fond of nonsensical plot tricks, doesn’t try any here.
Keyes has written powerfully about her personal battle with alcoholism and chronic and severe clinical depression, and shortly after this book was published (it hit the UK market in 2009) she wrote of being crippled by a depression so bad she was unable to eat, sleep, read, write or talk. Cruel as it is, her personal suffering has vested in her a profound talent for marrying light-hearted and clever comedy with sombre themes – her most recent previous book, This Charming Man, substantially addressed domestic violence.
True to form, it emerges in The Brightest Star in the Sky that an ostensible daily vitamin regime is in fact a dose of anti-depressants, and that a seemingly happy-go-lucky character is reeling from the aftereffects of rape. Keyes likes to remind us that most pain is pedestrian – so common and ordinary as to be unremarkable – and that no one gets through unscathed: the skill lies in just getting on with it.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones