Marian Keyes is one of those writers whose work I am aware of – I mean, she’s one of the most popular authors out there, how can you not be? – but which I don’t read very often. I’m fairly sure I must have read something of hers at some point before this, but if I have I can’t remember what it was. So when FMCM sent me a review copy of The Break I was very much coming at it with an open mind and few prior expectations.
And so I settled down with a notebook and a drippy-wine-bottle candle at the ready, and I started to read.
The blurb goes like this:
‘Myself and Hugh… we’re taking a break.’
‘A city-with-fancy-food sort of a break?’
Amy’s husband Hugh says he isn’t leaving her.
He still loves her, he’s just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. Six months to lose himself in South East Asia. And there is nothing Amy can say or do about it.
Yes, it’s a mid-life crisis, but let’s be clear: a break isn’t a break up – yet…
However, for Amy it’s enough to send her – along with her extended family of gossips, misfits and troublemakers – teetering over the edge.
For a lot can happen in six months. When Hugh returns, if he returns, will he be the same man she married? And will Amy be the same woman?
Because if Hugh is on a break from their marriage, then so is she…
I enjoyed this book because it was so very relatable in places.
So. Very. Relatable.
Also, though, it brought up some interesting points about relationships, and life, and what it means to be a person who has responsibilities towards other people. When Hugh first tells Amy he’s going on his break, she’s devastated but she also supports him, despite many of her friends wanting to string him up by the balls. She understands it’s something he has to do and she’s open to it.
I liked how none of the characters were blameless angels. It would have been so easy to write a book that painted Amy as a saint and Hugh as a monster, but Keyes’ story is much more nuanced than that. Which is good, because that’s how life is. There are rarely clear-cut good guys and bad guys. Most of the time, we’re all somewhere in the grey area: sometimes we’re assholes, sometimes we’re lovely, often we’re somewhere in between depending on how much caffeine we’ve had and how many days are left until Friday.
Speaking of fuzzy dividing lines…
I used to think that the line dividing sane people from insane people was entirely black or white – sane or not-sane – with no grey area. But suddenly I see now that the grey area is enormous. It spreads far and wide into every part of life. Mad people aren’t just those poor souls confined to locked wards. Mad people are everywhere, living among us, masquerading as non-mads. Mad people are in positions of power and influence and sometimes get their own TV show on UK Living, shaming fat people into being less fat.
When she says ‘mad people’ here, Amy is referring to people whose views aren’t founded on real evidence, and who harm themselves or others as a result of those views. This paragraph specifically is concerned with Urzula who, it is hinted, has some problems with an undiagnosed eating disorder. However, she’s jumped on the ‘clean living’ wagon and spends her life talking about how everyone else should live like she does. Amy is worried about the impact this will have on Urzula’s daughter, as well as on other young people.
I liked this thread, because it’s so very relevant to life today: it’s a big problem that young people are increasingly trying “clean eating” which ultimately leads to them harming themselves. And it’s not just young people: lots of adults are also jumping on the “clean eating” bandwagon, which ironically considering its claims to make people glow with health actually makes people deficient in many of the nutrients they need to survive and thrive.
It’s fair to say I’d recommend this book. It was an easy read and well-balanced between being fun and containing some important messages. The only thing I didn’t love about it was the portrayal of the young people, whose use of slang sometimes seemed cringey. But perhaps it was meant to? The book was being written from the perspective of their mother, after all, who wasn’t exactly au fait with the latest lingo. Speaking of which, neither am I, as evidenced by my shameful recent WhatsApp messages.
So, yeah. Probably I just don’t understand how young people speak anymore.
Now that I’ve sufficiently depressed myself, a summary:
The book was good. It had some important themes, but they weren’t shoved in your face, so if you’re looking for a light unthinking read then you’d be able to ignore them and just enjoy the storyline. But if you’re feeling a bit more philosophical it’d also give you space to do some thinking.
I’d certainly recommend it if you’re already a fan of Keyes’, although in that case you’ll probably buy it anyway. Maybe also try it if you don’t normally read chick lit? Lots of people seem to think they can’t possibly get anything from a “light read” kind of book, but I’d beg to differ. In the words of Matt Haig:
The Break by Marian Keyes is published by Michael Joseph and will come out on the 7th of September 2017.
I received a free copy of an advance proof from the publisher in exchange for a review. In reality it’s difficult to tell if this affected my view of it, because arguably we’re all affected by every experience we have, but suffice it to say I’ve trashed review copies I haven’t liked in the past, so I doubt it makes enough of a difference to skew my viewpoint on it.