Marian Keyes writes sublime beach books, and ANGELS is no exception. What makes them so much fun to read is that --- miracle of miracles! --- the woman can actually write. ANGELS is unquestionably popular fiction --- as opposed to, you know, "littera-tyoor" --- but Keyes's prose is nevertheless elegant and readable, witty and charming. You could take this book on vacation, devour it in one sitting like a pint of ice cream, and still not hate yourself in the morning.
Maggie Walsh is having a really bad year. Her marriage is falling apart, she's just lost her job, and at home in Dublin it rains all the time. After a teeny nervous breakdown, or rather, "the flu," Maggie decides to take her best friend Emily up on an offer to visit her in sunny Los Angeles. Emily went to LA years ago to be a screenwriter; her first movie sold, but was never produced, and now Emily's barely holding on. She could use a commiserator.
So Maggie slouches rather numbly into the City of Angels. She's promptly tanned, trimmed, tweezed, massaged and fed several complicated martinis. Helping Emily cope with the starving-writer blues distracts her somewhat from her own misery. And the sun shines every single day. Which isn't to say that her troubles are over. Not by a long shot. Freed from gloomy Dublin and her family's view of her as the Good Girl, Maggie decides it's time to try "wild girl" on for size. She meets a hot young indie director who seems...interesting. She flirts with a gorgeous lesbian Valkyrie friend of Emily's. She makes inadvisable clothing purchases and eventual returns. She accompanies Emily to Hollywood studios for desperate screenplay pitches.
All this is delivered in a wry, smart-alecky tone that makes you instantly trust Maggie as narrator; you feel you're getting the inside story, hearing what she really thinks, not just what she'd tell the other characters. The author delights in skewering LA and its denizens at every opportunity. "She pointed out a clean-cut young man who looked affable and sure of himself," she writes. "This meant he was probably a neurotic mess who'd never had a meaningful relationship and who spent five hours a week in therapy. Such, I am told, is the Hollywood way."
After a few weeks in California, even Maggie finds herself growing accustomed to the lifestyle. On the TV news one evening, she sees a segment about the Irish peace process. "For a moment I thought the color on the telly was broken. Everything was so gray, especially the pallor of the Irish politicians, as if their skins had never seen sunlight. And as for the teeth...Oh dear. I'd crossed the invisible line: now I thought glowing skin and expensive dentistry was normal."
If Maggie seems a bit of a square at first, she becomes more and more of a sympathetic character as the darker elements of her life story are revealed in flashbacks. Watching her struggle to come out of her shell --- and then decide how far to crawl back in --- is guilt-free fun, even before you get to the sexy bits.
Reviewed by Becky Ohlsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 20, 2011