Beware The Charming Man

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This Charming Man By Marian KeyesIf I told you that I’ve just read a 676-page novel about Irish politics, corruption, domestic violence and alcoholism my guess is you wouldn’t immediately think “That sounds like just the perfect thing to read on the sun-bed on my summer holidays”. And I might agree – but only because mine is the hard-back and probably weighs more than two pairs of shoes. However, it could be the ideal book to hook you in and make you incapable of doing anything other than rushing home, microwaving the cat, stroking the ready meal and neglecting your ironing until you’ve finished it. Marian Keyes’ novel ‘This Charming Man‘ is chick-lit for the thinking woman – superficially fluffy but with plenty of depth and exploration of the motivations and causes of social breakdown.

I adore Keyes and have read everything she’s ever published – hell, I’ve even paid full price for the hard-backs because I couldn’t wait for the cheaper paper-backs to be issued. I even remember my husband got through two of her books on our honeymoon and he’s really not much of a reader at all. She’s like a sexed-up Maeve Binchy, consistently delivering compelling page-turning novels that examine uncomfortable topics. They are generally set in Ireland and peopled with vibrant lead and supporting characters. Her characters are flawed human beings with their own problems and failings. I actively look forward to any news that there’s another book on the way but her previous novel “Anybody Out There?” left me wondering if she was losing her magic because it was good but not up to the normal standards. This Charming Man really had to deliver to reinstate my faith in Keyes and I’m happy to say it did.

Over to the cover blurb

“Everybody remembers where they were the day they heard that Paddy de Courcy was getting married”

That’s a bit of a cheesy first line of a novel that tells the parallel stories of four women – flaky fashion ‘stylist’ Lola, tough journalist Grace, her twin sister estate-agent Marnie and the slightly enigmatic Alicia. Three have more in common than we initially realise but all four are linked by one man – the good-looking, charismatic Irish politician and deputy party leader, Paddy de Courcy. The book starts with the shock all four experience when they hear that de Courcy has announced his engagement to Alicia. She didn’t know she was engaged until the media told her; his girlfriend Lola was understandably surprised to find her boyfriend of 18 months marrying someone else; and the media attention stirs up very bad memories for Grace and Marnie who knew Paddy many years before and are each haunted by him.

Running four stories in parallel is a challenge and to help us keep track of who’s who, each character gets her own ‘font’ and to some degree, her own ‘voice’. The balance between the four characters is uneven, with Lola and Grace taking the lion’s share of the pages, Marnie getting a smaller role and Alicia really only playing a tiny part. Each woman deals with Paddy’s betrayal – either current or past – in a very different way. Lola has a bit of a breakdown and goes into hiding on the west coast of Ireland in a town peopled with quirky characters straight out of Father Ted or Ballykissangel; Grace gets bitter and determined to expose Paddy for what he is and what he’s done; Marnie goes into self-destruct and hits the bottle; and Alicia hams up the role of ‘political wife-to-be’. All of that is set up in just the first few chapters. Interleaved with the stories of the four lead characters are short vignettes of domestic violence, although in each case we don’t know who the victims or the perpetrators are until nearly the end of the book.

“I polished off the entire book in three evenings and couldn’t wait to get home and get back to it.”

In places it’s hilarious – Lola’s Friday night cross-dressers film club and the old men in the pub with the teetotal Muslim barman are particular highlights along with Grace’s boss and her colour-coded mood-identifying handbags. In other places it’s desperately sad to watch the self-denial of the self-destructive alcoholic who cannot stop her downward spiral into torment any more than she can acknowledge she’s got a problem. It’s also romantic – but in some very unexpected ways that will challenge what you may consider to be ‘normal’ behaviour.

It’s also a tale about the redemptive power of family and friendships. Keyes does friendship better than any other writer I can think of. And without giving away any details, there’s a pretty spectacular girl-power kick-arse ending to look forward to.

Is it perfect? Well almost but there’s one problem I can’t ignore and feel I should warn you about. Lola’s character writes in a ‘diary style’ that may remind some of Bridget Jones or may just irritate the heck out of you. At times I fell into the intensely irritated camp and only the strength of the plot and the depth of the characterisation would allow me to turn a nearly blind eye to sentences like “Woken up by silence. Is very disruptive. Never thought would miss drunken men grunting and wrestling outside window. Life full of surprises.” Or how about “Sacrilegious! In graveyard. But suppose it makes sense – sex and death.” Come on woman, where’s your sentence construction? I know it’s a long book but how about some verbs? This style isn’t used consistently and sometimes you can go pages without noticing it but I just wished she’d stuck to proper sentences.

Mind you, I can forgive the clipped sentences because the story is strong enough to carry these idiosyncrasies. I polished off the entire book in three evenings and couldn’t wait to get home and get back to it.

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This Charming Man
by Marian Keyes

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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