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.
I usually start the year with resolutions. In the past I was very good at keeping them, then I gradually got worse at it, and for the past couple of years I’ve been kind of hit-and-miss about it. This year I began with only two actual resolutions, both of which I’ve kept, but I also made some promises to myself, which I haven’t. I called these ‘promises’ because I wanted to say I didn’t have many resolutions this year, but really that’s just semantics and they were resolutions all along.
Confused yet? Yeah, so am I. I’m hopped up on a large cocktail of pills and have no idea if this is making sense.
I’ve never really been into reading biographies. With the exception of pretty much anything about the life of Kierkegaard, I generally stay away from true stories and read either academic non-fiction, or novels.
But this year quite a lot of biographical accounts have ended up on my reading list, and several of them were amazing enough that I decided to do a whole new Reflections post for them.
I’m defining ‘biography’ quite loosely here, to mean anything where the author draws on personal experience (either their own or someone else’s) to discuss the central premise of the book.
This intriguing book was sent to me by a friend, who thought (correctly) that I’d enjoy it.
My friend caveated the recommendation with the view that the book should have been called ‘MY truth’ rather than ‘THE truth’, and I’d agree with that. But it was interesting all the same.
I was a little scared of 2016, for entirely superstitious reasons that make no sense. The worst two years of my life to date have been 1996 and 2006, during both of which I had brushes with death that were less like brushes and more like full-blown fights.
2015 was a good year, following an awful one in 2013 and a half-half one in 2014, so my brain naturally decided to tell me that this meant 2016 had to be completely awful. And the year did get off to a bit of a stressful start, it’s true. But over the past couple of days I’ve realised that I have a lot of causes for celebration this year.
It’s Monday morning. I wake up to the sound of seagulls screeching outside the window, sun straining through the blind.
I work for a bit, perched on the edge of the single bed in the hotel room with a bright pink laptop on my knee and my feet resting on the chair opposite, tapping out replies to emails and deciding on my Out Of Office message.
By 10am I’m on a bus through the countryside, familiar places passing by the window, invoking memories that have lain dormant since I last returned almost three years ago.
When you swear to love, to be faithful and to do your duty, how does that promise bind you?
Radio host John Knox falls passionately and irrevocably in love with Rachel McAllister the first time they meet, when a political debate boils over and she punches him. Thrilled by her fire, he pursues her, promising never to leave her.
I was intrigued by my own reaction to this book. It took me a very long time to pick up on the kind of person Rachel actually was; my mind was somehow refusing to see it, despite all the evidence laid out plainly in front of me.
It is a story about the worst kind of love: the kind that binds you tightly, pulls you together with the other person so that you can’t let go even if you wanted to. And John Knox doesn’t want to. He’s made a vow in his mind, to stick with Rachel through thick and thin, and he’ll be keeping to it even if all his friends advise him otherwise.
The Death of the Poet is a beautifully written story, interwoven with the diaries of a WWI captain who saw his friend killed in front of him (don’t be surprised when the diary suddenly pops up halfway through – for a moment I thought I’d started a new book). It looks at how lives can entwine without any warning, how we can become inextricably linked to people whose worlds are so far removed from our own, and how a life can so easily be wasted in the pursuit of making someone else’s life better.
It is a novel that reads like poetry, about a horrible situation that reads like a romance. Masterfully done, The Death of the Poet is one of the most accomplished books of recent years. I’m expecting more excellent things from N. Quentin Woolf in the future.