I am ashamed to say that for a girl who enjoys her chick-lit, I have never read a Marian Keyes novel. You know, the famed author who penned This Charming Man, Anybody Out There and The Brightest Star in the Sky and sold over thirty-three million copies of her published works around the world.
After giving her latest release, The Woman Who Stole My Life, a proper read, I can wholeheartedly say that Keyes is an exceptionally talented author who strikes a fine balance between humour, tragedy, and the hard facts of life in a story that goes round and round on the karma wheel without ever making the reader feel terribly ill.
Stella Sweeney, aesthetician, a mother of two, wife to a bathroom designer, completely normal Irish lady, was just trying to do a good deed when she decided to let a Range Rover merge in front of her on the highway. She did not ask to be involved in a car crash mere moments later, but there she was, backed up against a wall, amidst a three vehicle wreckage and completely misinterpreting Mr.Range Rover’s request for her number. Bad Karma: 1. Stella: 0.
Months later, over the course of just another normal day, Stella’s muscles shut down and suddenly she finds herself in the ICU, diagnosed with Guilain-Barré Syndrome, an extremely rare illness that targets the nervous system and essentially shuts the entire body down. Stella cannot communicate, move or breathe on her own – she can only blink. Trapped in her mind and rendered unable to be the mother and wife that she has always been, Stella is all alone. At least, until Mr. Range Rover – Mannix Taylor, who also happens to be Stella’s neurologist – decides to take as much control as he can over her recovery and, unknowingly to Stella, sets forth the foundation of a life after tragedy, a highly coveted one at that.
Minor Spoiler Alert #1: Stella recovers.
Minor Spoiler Alert #2: Stella and Mannix turn her survival philosophies into an inspirational novel, One Blink At A Time.
You discover this within the first few chapters because Keyes structures Stella’s tale by flipping back and forth between her time in the hospital and her time after she publishes One Blink At A Time during the first half of the novel. It might seem confusing at first, but key plot points tend to be repeated and retold throughout the later periods in Stella’s life, which makes it a bit easier to understand. Once you get a grasp of the shifting settings, you can really appreciate Stella’s journey and characterization. Her deep sense of familial instinct, endless love for store-bought snack cakes and witty commentary are all endearing, but her narrative on the isolating implications resulting from her illness, her crumbling marriage, career aspirations and prioritizing her children amidst an onslaught of conflicting desires will resonate loudly for any individual who is trying to make the most of their life, regardless of the circumstance.
The title certainly suggests something much more eerie than the actual plot of the book, but I think it perfectly alludes to Stella’s personal evolution throughout each karmic cycle and the changing effect she has on the people around her. The supporting cast is just as quirky, comedic and blatant as Stella, but they are never just downsized emotional devices. Over the course of the 500+ pages of this novel, Keyes succeeds in defining each character, albeit solely through Stella’s eyes, but enough to make readers appreciate their presence and dimensions throughout the story. I found her children to be particularly hilarious, but maybe it’s a millennial thing.
The core relationship between Stella and Mannix has many faults, and while Keyes actively identifies them through Stella’s tale, they still tend to make their story a tad flat and dull, especially through to the climax and conclusion of the story. To her credit, Keyes avoids other predictable conclusions and tropes without completely overhauling Stella’s character to the point of disbelief, ensuring that as a reader, we can hang on while her life takes one karmic turn after turn. And for the most part, it is a pretty great ride.
I received an advanced reader copy of The Woman Who Stole My Life from Penguin Canada in exchange for an honest review. The book is now available across Canada. You can follow Marian Keyes on Twitter here.