Book review: The Break by Marian Keyes

the break marian keyesI’m not normally interested in mainstream romantic fiction but Marian Keyes is one of those writers who transcend genre. Over the years she has managed to combine some very dark issues (domestic abuse, addiction, bereavement) with sharp humour and zeitgeisty references (though she does write rather more about shoes than I would like).

The Break is about Amy, a woman in her forties with two daughters (and care of her niece) and a loving, responsible husband, Hugh. After a crisis in his life, Hugh suddenly decides he wants to take six months off and backpack round Asia. Amy is left in Dublin to cope with her busy PR career, the three girls, the machinations of her friends and extended family and her own emotional turmoil.

The Break has all the Keyes staples. It’s packed with the usual cultural references. There’s a big, eccentric Irish family (with more than a passing resemblance to the Walshes, who feature in many of Keyes’ other novels) and lots of stuff about clothes, minor celebrities, YouTube vloggers, social media sensations and the ever-shifting norms of middle-class life. Amy is a tougher, more pragmatic heroine than in some of the other novels and so, despite her sadness around Hugh, you feel like nothing too terrible will happen (although conversely there weren’t as many laugh-out-loud moments).

I whizzed through it and mostly enjoyed it but I did feel that it lacked something – and that something was probably a stern editor and another draft. (I’ve felt this a few times with big name authors, presumably the limiting factor is time rather than money.) There’s a lot of repetition. The period between Hugh saying he’ll go and him actually going drags on for far too long. There are plot points that are set up but never paid off and some of the reversals come from nowhere. Amy has a superfluous sibling who adds nothing to the plot and becomes just another name to remember (perhaps not coincidentally, there are also five Walsh siblings and Keyes herself is one of five). Key events lose their impact because they take place off camera.

All in all, The Break has an episodic feel, more like a soap than a novel. Big issues are raised, dealt with and then forgotten, rather than contributing to a building of the narrative.

Despite these reservations, it’s a fun, breezy read, with some good set pieces. Hardcore Keyes fans will love it.

I received a copy of The Break from the publisher via NetGalley.
View The Break on Goodreads

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