Forty-four-year-old Amy is gobsmacked when her husband, Hugh, declares that he wants to take a break from their marriage. He plans to travel through South East Asia and sever all contact for six months. Leaving Amy and three children behind, he heads off with a rucksack, a quick-dry towel and a newly discovered sense of freedom. Amy is devastated but, in true Irish style, she picks herself up and carries on, regardless. With some words of (not your average) wisdom from her daughters, sisters and feisty mother, Amy slowly learns what it is like to be a separated mother and struggles to adapt to her new role, albeit in great vintage clothes.
It is twenty two years since Marian Keyes burst onto the fiction scene, with her debut, Watermelon. Twelve worldwide bestselling novels later, she returns with a fresh and zingy new host of characters. Amy is an extremely likable and well-rounded personality; in her prime, yet delightfully immature; attractive, yet insecure; career confident, yet equally happy to be at home. She has raised three very unique children and is a loving aunt to many. Her eldest daughter, Neeve, (who's father is a virtually-absent former footballer) is a make-up vlogger, even managing to rope in her Granny for the odd session. There is her quiet and contemplative niece, Sofie, who has been living with Amy and Hugh since her early childhood and is rarely seen without boyfriend, Jackson. Finally there is Kiara, a dream-child who gives her parents no worries. This houseful of females is awash with ongoing shenanigans and all-round mayhem which builds up momentum for the weekly extended-family meal. Add in Amy's regular commute to London, for her celeb clients requiring media-makeovers, and the story line never dips.
Keyes has come back with a bang. She has deposited some of her own insightful, warm wit into her characters and let them come to life in their own unique way. Fans will recognise many familiar topics dotted throughout the narrative; a love of all things cosmetic-related; a monthly cheese-subscription; a wife who is weary with the arduous task of caring for her husband with dementia; a fear of hairdressers; the joy of seeing a baby car seat being removed from a sibling's car. However, there are more universal moments. The delight of the first sip of crisp, white wine at the end of a crappy day; the 'mean-girl' effect on on adults who need friends, not enemies; the pre-date preparations required to make an older-woman feel confident enough to strip-off. There are also very valid and serious issues addressed. The ongoing Repeal the 8th campaign is tackled head-on with a character needing to travel abroad to end her pregnancy. Women, on this island, have no rights to their own bodies. Under Irish law, it is a criminal offense to procure abortion pills or seek termination in Ireland. In The Break, a female has made her choice, but cannot legally do anything about it. Choice is the key word. It may not be a story line that everyone will be comfortable with, but it is a reflection of our times. Unfair treatment of females in the workplace is also alluded to:
"These days, my friends of child-bearing age, who work any sizable company, tell me that life is like a dystopian novel, one where women have to swallow their pill in a public ceremony every morning in the workplace. ('They watch over you like a hawk. You can't sneak off to puke from a hangover or put on even an ounce. If they suspect you're pregnant, you're immediately sidelined onto the worst project ever, to make you resign.')
But, there are lots of laughs. Bucket-loads of laughs. Amy is the kind of friend that you would want at your party. She's fun, sassy and you know she would have your back. Her ability to laugh and enjoy life, even through the darker moments, are endearing and despite being kicked in the teeth, she does not wallow in self-pity. (Instead, choosing to shop online, despite dwindling finances.) She is a great mother and a fantastic daughter. She gets her chance for her own 'mid-life crisis' and Jaypers, she gets right up on that horse. The sex scenes are real and raunchy, without being gratuitous, and are all the better for it. The body-shaming and 'things you should never wear over the age of forty' lists get the middle finger from Marian Keyes, and rightly so. There are some amazingly astute one-liners, all the way through:
"A soul-mate is like one of those seventy-nine-euro flights to New York - a lovely idea but they don't exist."
"There are times when your heart is bursting with love for them and there are spells when you tense up at the sound of them entering the room."
Flashbacks give the reader a chance to know more about Amy and Hugh, allowing more depth to their relationship. The pacing is great, the language is a balance of the colloquial and generic and all emotions are examined; grief, anger, joy, surprise, despair, excitement (sexual and retail - YES!) and acceptance. Amy's mother is a breath of fresh air and like The Walsh Family novels, the diverse personalities within the family unit are the making of the story. I cannot fault this book at all. I am delighted to see Ms. Keyes back in flying form and spreading the joy to her readers. We are definitely a better nation for her. An outstanding look at life for the modern Irish woman. Highly Recommended.
The Break is published by Michael Joseph on 7th September 2017 in HB. You can pre-order your copy via your local bookshop or via amazon link below: