When Gemma, a professional event planner, learns that her father
has bolted and moved in with the much younger Colette, she channels
her anger, hurt and confusion into long emails to her friend Susan
in Seattle while entering into a ridiculous relationship with a
younger man, Owen.
Susan sends Gemma's email rants to JoJo, a literary agent at Lipman
Haigh in London. JoJo has her own episode of anger, hurt and
confusion going on with the opposite sex since she's having an
intense affair with a married superior in her agency.
Meanwhile, JoJo represents Lily, author of the bestselling fairy
tale Mimi's Remedies and live-in girlfriend of Gemma's ex-boyfriend
Anton (whom she feels guilty of stealing). When Lily learns that
JoJo wants to represent a book based on Gemma's emails, she fears
that her own fairy tale (flawed though it may be) with Anton may
come to an end.
There you have it --- three women, three different lives, three
separate problems with men, all combined into one novel. Keyes has
written her most ambitious book to date, and while there are a few
glitches (more on those in a moment), overall she succeeds in not
only creating a new, engaging read, but in growing as a
Before discussing the plot further, it's important to underscore
that point: she's growing as a writer. First, when it comes to
stretching as writers, so many novelists seem to prefer not to, in
a Barleby-esque way. Second, Keyes could easily subscribe to that
viewpoint because her books are immensely successful. But she's
deliberately chosen to take a risk here.
The risk, of course, is not in trying to give each woman's story
proper weight individually --- that could be accomplished by
publishing three novellas. The trick is in meshing those three
stories and making it mean something. Initially, as Keyes switches
to JoJo just as we've become attached to Gemma, reader attention
wavers --- but only for a moment, as JoJo may be Keyes's most
fascinating character (in fact, Keyes has said that JoJo was the
character she was originally planning to write a novel about): a
voluptuous, brash, American-born girl who is nonetheless a
stunning, successful English businesswoman.
It would have been so easy, too, to simply have paired each woman's
story with the flip side: Gemma's father's girlfriend Colette's
perspective, or JoJo's boyfriend's wife's story, or
Lily-versus-Gemma in the fight for Anton's heart. Instead, Keyes
shows that nearly anyone's story is the flip of someone else's ---
and that no one, but no one, can predict the outcome of someone
else's narrative nor can they influence it. Try as Gemma may, her
version of a happy ending isn't the same as her mother's, any more
than Anton's vision of domestic bliss in the perfect house is the
opposite of Lily's.
One fascinating thread that does unite all three stories is the
publishing industry. Keyes gives a realistic and decidedly
unromantic view (OK, there's a teensy bit of fantasy here, but this
is a Chick Lit novel. . .) of what goes on behind the scenes ---
not just on the business end, but also on the frustrated writer's
end. Lily's attempts to break out of the mold her publisher has
cast for her ring oh-so-true. Thank goodness Avon Trade has not
forced Marian Keyes to sing in a gilded cage, but is allowing her
to spread her wings a bit. Fans, buy this book immediately. Those
unfamiliar with Marian Keyes, pick it up and give it a try --- you
might be hooked.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on January 14, 2011