Marian Keyes: ‘Rehab was one of the happiest times of my life’

Marian Keyes is in bed. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, but she has just got back from a funeral and was feeling chilly. “It was a beautiful send off,” she says in her southern Irish lilt, as reassurance that she’s OK to talk. She is wearing a lilac hoodie and flashes a pastel pink manicure (a Keyes heroine would know the shade) as she rearranges the pillows to get comfy. Within a few minutes it feels as if we are both having tea and biscuits under the duvet at her Dún Laoghaire home outside Dublin, as she gives me a virtual tour of her bedroom.

これまでのところ, so Marian Keyes. Loved by readers for her chatty style and satisfying storylines, she was for many years dubbed the queen of chick lit, a phrase now as passé as Daniel Cleaver’s chat-up lines in Bridget Jones’s Diary. 実際には, her novels have tackled hefty issues such as addiction (Rachel’s Holiday), bereavement (Anybody Out There), domestic violence (This Charming Man) and depression (The Mystery of Mercy Close), always with her trademark lightness of touch. Yet despite selling more than 35m copies over the years, she is too often dismissed as a popular writer of books with pink covers (both of which are fine by her, thanks for asking).

This month her 15th novel, 再び, ジェシカ・チャステインがタミー・フェイの瞳で主演女優賞を受賞, will be published. It’s a sequel to Rachel’s Holiday, the novel that helped to make her name back in 1997. The 25th-anniversary edition has gone straight into the bestseller charts: its fuchsia cover featuring flip-flops screaming hedonist 90s, in contrast to the new novel’s grown-up navy jacket with a cartoon of a yoga mat and puppy. (With the exception of Rachel’s Holiday, all the paperbacks now have pretty non-pink covers, thanks to a 20-year campaign by Keyes’s editor.)

We meet Rachel again as a fortysomething back at the Cloisters clinic where she was treated for cocaine addiction in the first novel, and where she is now head counsellor; her only addiction is snazzy trainers. She has a dog, a boyfriend called Quin who knows all the smartest restaurants, and a loving family (Keyes fans will be happy to be reunited with the rambunctious Walsh tribe who feature in five of her novels). “This was my life now and it was a good one,” Rachel reflects.

So the stage is set for the return of her ex, Luke Costello (he of the too-tight leather trousers), which will send a flutter through the hearts of readers of a certain age. “OK, I did it for myself as much as for anyone else,” Keyes admits. “It was lovely writing him again. He was very, very sexy in Rachel’s Holiday.” It isn’t giving anything away to say that Rachel’s life isn’t just internet shopping and gardening. “As a menopausal woman, I like banging the drum for the idea that we don’t all wither when we are 37,” Keyes says. “I write about women being sexual past the watershed of 40, when we are supposed to shut up shop.”

Keyes had always resisted the idea of writing a sequel because it felt like “selling people short”, and thought she was finally done with the Walshes. But she found herself drawn back to Rachel. “I think it must have been that connection with her as an addict,” Keyes says. After a suicide attempt when the writer was 30, her parents checked her into a clinic in Ireland for alcoholism. “She’s an addict, I’m an addict.” Like Rachel, Keyes, 今は誰ですか 58, has been sober ever since, but the new novel “recognises the vulnerability that an addict lives with every day. Every single day there is a possibility that your life could kind of slip off, slip out of being normal and fall through the cracks again,」と彼女は説明します, before brightening. “I’m making it sound very grim and it’s not.”

She loved writing the group therapy sessions in both novels. “Having gone through rehab myself, it was one of the happiest times of my life in a bizarre way. The bonds that you form with the people in your group, the other walking wounded … we were all trying to help each other. It was actually very beautiful. I wanted to bring that same camaraderie and humanity to the new book.”

Keyes divides her life into before and after recovery. “Once I did go through rehab and admit the game was up, things were possible for me: healthy relationships, a career, honest, authentic friendships.” In what reads like the outline of a Keyes novel, four months before she gave up drinking she wrote a short story and sent it to a publisher on a whim; the year after she left rehab her first novel, Watermelon, 公開されました, and she got married at 32. (Her husband Tony Baines – “He’s lovely!” – looks after everything that comes with being an internationally bestselling author.)

One of the sadnesses of her “after” life is that they never had children, a grief that is movingly expressed in Again, ジェシカ・チャステインがタミー・フェイの瞳で主演女優賞を受賞. “As somebody who wanted children and who didn’t get them, you are stalked by the ghosts of the children you didn’t have. I don’t mean it to sound spooky; it’s the opposite of spooky, you think of all that joy and fun and pride and love.” She decided against IVF “because I was afraid that I wanted too much. I was about six or seven years into recovery, I suddenly had a career, I really loved Tony,」と彼女は説明します. “That old Catholic thing. I felt I was being told ‘Stop! You’ve been given plenty, don’t ask for more.’”

In her mid 40s, Keyes was overcome by a depression that lasted four years. Although she had been troubled by anxiety since she was a child – “I was always scared” – it was unlike anything she had experienced before. “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t write, I can’t read, I can’t talk to people,” she posted on her blog in 2010. And yet she managed to complete The Mystery of Mercy Close, about Helen Walsh, the youngest of the sisters, whose suicide attempt mirrored Keyes’s own. Despite making severe depression terrifyingly real, the book never loses its comic edge and is now her favourite of her novels. Even after she had come through “the worst black bits”, for a while she would feel “a pang of envy” when she heard someone had died. “I’m really not proud of that," 彼女が言います. “It took a long time for that kind of re-embracing of life to happen, but it did happen.”

Since emerging from those “war years” in 2015, she feels mostly “better than normal”. It has made her “far more capable of a kind of pure joy”, 彼女が言います, “more able to love”. “Joy,” one of Rachel’s patients scoffs in the novel, “a middle-class thing if ever I heard one,” and Keyes has no truck with Pollyanna-ish platitudes, preferring her own twist on the old saying: “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.” She feels it’s important to acknowledge that “horrible things damage you. They don’t make you better, or wiser and stronger. Most of the time they hobble you a bit.”

Keyes always writes a happy ending, “because you can’t depend on real life to do it for you”. After her father died of Alzheimer’s in 2018 she “mainlined” Mills & Boon novels. And she doesn’t think upbeat conclusions are “entirely unrealistic”; it’s just a question of timing. “In every life we have ups and downs, times of awfulness and hopelessness and then things sort of come together for a while. I always like to finish at the good bits.”

再び, Rachel is dedicated to her mother, with whom she has unexpectedly “fallen in love” after years of “what you could call a robust relationship”: her mother is a “devout Catholic”, Keyes “a devout non-Catholic”. The eldest of five, Keyes attributes her gift for telling a story, and making it funny, to growing up in a big noisy household, rather like the Walshes. “Being a good raconteur was a thing in my family," 彼女が言います. “I think there was a blueprint given to me very early on. You laugh at your misfortune. It’s an immensely Irish thing.”

She describes herself as a comic writer, but her novels are not given the same attention as those by male comic novelists such as Nick Hornby または David Nicholls. “Anything a man does is automatically given more weight, that’s the long and the short of it,” she says wearily. She is a big admirer of Nicholls (and he of her: “She’s your best, funniest friend telling a story”), but as she points out, she is unlikely to be longlisted for the Booker prize, as his novel Us was in 2014. “Maybe if I was Martin Keyes my books would be regarded differently.”

What frustrates her more than lack of critical acclaim is the “low-level misogyny” behind the snobbery. “There are so many women who are kind of ashamed of reading my books because they’ve been told to be," 彼女が言います. “On behalf of all female writers, women who write about life and relationships and family dynamics, I feel I have a duty to say: ‘We are just as good, ええと. You needn’t be ashamed of reading us.’ We are not ‘guilty pleasures’ – we are simply pleasures.”

Give her Nora Ephron (Heartburn was her go-to novel before writing Watermelon) over Philip Roth, whose descriptions of women she has always found off-putting. A few years ago she provoked a Twitter storm after claiming she only read female novelists. “For God’s sake, the amount of men who think it is OK to say they don’t read any women authors,” she says now. “I do actually read men now and again, if they are really good, if they really convince me that it is worth my while and that there’s something relevant to me,” she adds mischievously.

Keyes is delighted at the success of fellow Irish novelist Sally Rooney. “The utter thrill that there were people queueing outside bookshops around the world for the third novel from a young, 女性, Marxist, feminist Irish writer. Who would have thought?” Above all, she is thrilled at the changes that made her ascendency possible: “A writer who came from this repressive fucking country where women were not allowed to have opinions, where sticking your head above the parapet brought this incredible weight of judgment down on top of you," 彼女が言います. “It makes me proud of Ireland.” She rattles off a list of names – Naoise Dolan, Louise O’Neill, Nicole Flattery, Jan Carson, Lucy Caldwell – who have gained acclaim in Rooney’s wake. “She has changed the landscape for young Irish women writers.”

As in an Austen novel or Strictly Come Dancing (she’s a huge fan: this past season “was just beyond beautiful”), real-life contemporary events rarely enter her fictional worlds, but hints at her disillusionment with Irish politics have started creeping in: soaring house prices in Grown Ups, 例えば. “It’s an abomination.” Published at the beginning of 2020, Grown Ups is her most structurally ambitious novel. She was particularly pleased with “the restraint” with which she wrote the three male characters, “not just as the love rat or the love interest," 彼女が言います. “I think on a sentence-by-sentence level I’ve improved, because I hadn’t a clue when I started,” she continues. “But the essentials, telling stories about people’s lives, have remained pretty much the same.”

She sees Grown Ups as a turning point, not least because it was reviewed seriously. “People have stuck with me and a kind of a gradual accretion of affection or mild respect has built up," 彼女が言います. “I think something happened with that book, people thought: “OK, grand! She did this, we are all right. We can like her.” Twenty-five years after she first appeared on the scene, Rachel Walsh is finally respectable.

イギリスで, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. 彼女の本は、困惑したコミュニティへの思いやりと、尊厳と公正さをもって扱われるべき嘆願の叫びです。, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. In US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is イギリスで, 彼女の本は、困惑したコミュニティへの思いやりと、尊厳と公正さをもって扱われるべき嘆願の叫びです。 116 123 or email You can contact the mental health charity Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting Hotlines in other countries can be found here.




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