Marian Keyes is one of those novelists who is never content to
simply replicate her success. Back when she was at the forefront of
the "chick-lit" movement, Keyes mastered that genre's formula of
"single girl in the city" while still injecting sometimes subtle,
sometimes startling glimpses of social commentary and grim reality.
With each subsequent novel, she has probed further into some pretty
dark territory, never losing her gift for whimsical dialogue and
eccentric supporting characters that attracted so many readers in
the first place.
With THIS CHARMING MAN, her ninth novel, Keyes introduces her
audience to three unforgettable ladies --- and to their shared
past, a dark secret that has affected each differently but, for
each one, has deeply shaped the woman she has become.
The novel opens with an innocent enough event --- the announcement
in a tabloid newspaper of the engagement of Paddy de Courcy.
Handsome, charismatic, powerful de Courcy is a politician on the
rise, the public face of a newly ascendant political party and the
heir apparent to its highest position. But this announcement is
anything but innocent to Lola, Grace and Marnie, each of whom has
her own history with de Courcy.
Lola, a hip stylist, thought that perhaps she was destined to
become the future Mrs. de Courcy --- after all, she had been dating
the man for a year and a half! When de Courcy chooses a more
politically advantageous mate, however, Lola is thrown into a
crisis, fleeing Dublin for a tiny village on Ireland's western
coast. There, as she relates in breathless, Bridget Jones-style
journal entries, she gets drawn into the lives and secrets of the
village's inhabitants --- from the surfer dudes and video store
clerks to a small collection of cross-dressers who meet at Lola's
house each Friday night. Her career is in jeopardy and her heart is
broken. But will her time in Knockavoy be enough to get de Courcy
out of her mind forever?
Grace Gildee, a features journalist, wants desperately to track
down Lola for the "jilted girlfriend" interview of the year. But
what Lola doesn't know is that Grace herself has a history with de
Courcy, one that she can't share with her twin sister or even with
her significant other. And Grace has problems of her own --- her
boyfriend is rekindling a friendship with his ex-wife, a rival at
work is scooping up all the best interviews, her beloved car has
been stolen and torched, and her twin sister Marnie is slowly
slipping away from her.
As for Marnie, she has always been a fragile woman; it's hard to
believe this depressed, emotionally paralyzed mother of two could
possibly be related to vibrant, brash Grace Gildee. Marnie finds it
impossible to be satisfied with her comfortable London life, her
loving husband, her job, even her two charming daughters. Instead,
mired by decades of secrets, self-doubt and self-hatred, she turns
to the only thing that might make her feel better --- but that
threatens to tear her family apart.
With THIS CHARMING MAN, Keyes has not forgotten her chick-lit
roots. Surprisingly enough, given the novel's subject matter, she
still manages to insert plenty of humorous situations and
lighthearted commentary, not to mention a most unconventional
romance. But long-time Keyes fans will recognize that their
favorite author is headed in new, darker but exciting directions.
With its overlapping stories (each of which is told in its
protagonist's highly individualistic voice), "ripped from the
headlines" approach, and focus on political intrigue and public
dishonor, Keyes's latest sprawling blockbuster reminds me a great
deal of those by another popular author --- Penny Vincenzi.
Ambitious, multi-layered, with surprises around every corner and
scandals at every turn, THIS CHARMING MAN signals a new direction
for this already accomplished author --- one that her many fans
will be eager to follow.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011
This Charming Man