Some people take to their beds to escape from their lives; Marian Keyes takes to her bed in order to reflect on her life. She really does spend her days "under the duvet," comfortably propped up on pillows and typing away on her Sony Vaio laptop. Meanwhile, her husband of nearly a decade, Tony Baines, keeps the home and business fires burning from a more traditional workplace downstairs, communicating with his wife via a dedicated telephone line.
Such a setup has not only allowed Keyes to give full rein to her writing talents; it's given her a pretty great title gimmick, because when you come right down to it, so many things do take place under the duvet (or over, or around, but I digress). Most of the 47 short pieces in this book were written for the Irish Tatler and other magazines and newspapers, which has had some reviewers noting that "Keyes is also a journalist." She modestly points out that this is true insofar as she has produced these works of journalism --- but that she did so after becoming a novelist, when editors began to seek her out for pieces.
However, her modesty is misplaced because those who sought her out were clearly doing so in order to get Keyes's singular take on life, love and the pursuit of more hours for shopping. Smart editors they are, because Keyes not only has a winning way with words but with people as well. She comes alive in her essays as the spark plug of her family --- a person who doesn't believe she is the center of the universe, but around whom the folks naturally gravitate nonetheless.
This serves Keyes particularly well because everything --- a supposedly slimming seaweed wrap, a single kitten-heeled mule --- is fodder for her delightful gristmill of contemporary manners and mores. One essay's experience, "In the Name of Research --- Going Under Cover," about a brief stint at a glossy woman's magazine, was used to great effect in SUSHI FOR BEGINNERS, Keyes's second novel about --- what else? --- a start-up glossy woman's magazine.
But Keyes is not merely collecting fodder; she's sizing it up as well. "Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles" (her experience there shows up in ANGELS) contains acute observations of that city: "It was fearsomely hot as we drove along and the gray glare hurt my eyes. The sky looked like it could do for a good scrub with a wire brush. Abruptly I realized what was so odd --- there were no human beings on the streets. The place had a strange science-fiction feel to it."
Here's another thing about Keyes as a journalist: she's remarkably honest in her observations, especially as they pertain to herself (and Himself, as she dubs her good-humored husband) or her family. Having finished a university degree in law, she spent much of her twenties in substance abuse. Now, ten years sober and wiser (and having dissected that part of her life in RACHEL'S HOLIDAY), Keyes writes of her darkest hour in the previously unpublished "The Pissed Is Another Country, They Do Things Differently There": "From September 1993 to January 1994 was the most bereft time I have ever lived through. I had a bare bed, in a bare room, with a bare window, in a bare, bare life."
Fortunately that darkest hour really was just before dawn, and recovery. And fortunately for her readers, even when Keyes strips the bed, she has fresh linen at the ready. That essays ends, "For someone who'd always felt so inconsequential, I remember realizing that I'd been rescued. That I'd been worth rescuing."
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on January 6, 2004
Under the Duvet: Shoes, Reviews, Having the Blues, Builders, Babies, Families and Other Calamities