The sub-title to Marian Keyes’ new book – a rare foray into non-fiction for the hugely successful novelist - is `Tales from an eejit who was buying shoes the day Life’s Rulebook was issued.’ Marian’s quirky observations on life and its oddities and vagaries shine unerringly through in these fluently unstoppable accounts.
Here she is on Christmas and, while it is indisputably the season of goodwill and good vibes, some will sneakily empathise with the following, from a piece entitled What’s Right With Christmas:
". . . and then suddenly we find ourselves trapped in an over-warm, over-full house with our family. Tellies are blaring from every room, there’s no privacy and no peace, the kitchen is full of steam and Brussels sprouts and it’s only a matter of time before all hell breaks loose."
That’s from one of four Yuletide-related pieces, but there’s much more to the book than such familiar - and familial - territory. Turn to a 2005 piece entitled Walking in France and she is taking the Rosslare-Cherbourg ferry to France. We hear about the meals she ate, and being served by a Pole who she assumed was Russian on the boat. However, there is not much on the actual business of walking, footslog, shank’s mare, call it what you will, no tales of blisters, muscle spasm or tenderness of the sole.
Of course, at that point – page 112 of the capacious 439-page volume - you will know the deal.Rather than giving us the painstaking details of her promenade through La belle France, Marian rides an associative train of thought that has her reminding us how much she adores chemist shops (there has already been a piece extolling the delights of same.) Or she recalls how one of the worst nights of her life was spent in the Georges restaurant at the top of the Pompidou Centre. In passing almost, she mentions eating some Gruyère buns which certainly sound lovely, but she has already moved on to something else.
There are pieces on turning 50 and on tipping, on lasering, on personal shoppers, on Robert Plant – yes, seriously - and on hairy legs. There is a wildly entertaining piece on missing Bryan Dobson''s Six One presence during a break in far Marrakech. A paean to Tom Dunne whose voice she loves is also to be found within these covers.
She travels mostly with a spouse designated as Himself, incidentally, but not always. Day One of her/ their 42-page Antarctica Diary begins with an engaging line: "Greetings from the Heathrows, where I am a nervous wreck." Yes, she means the four dreaded terminals, of course, but by simply adding the ‘s’ and making the airport plural she lends that soulless hub, familiar to most of us, an unexpected rustic quaintness.
There is a fascinating 2012 account about the lead-up to her finally shaking Aung San Suu Kyi’s hand at a Dublin event hosted in her honour. Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and is currently president of the National League for Democracy in that country, with fervent hopes that she may soon become President of the country, given a recent landslide victory for her party in General Elections.
There are trips to Laos, Brazil, Chile Cyprus, Madeira, Belgium, Amsterdam, Portugal, Norway, New York, Slovakia, Finland, and,back once more to France - isn’t she the lucky person to get to holiday in the Auvergne? But that doesn’t always go to plan, like the time she bought ten slices of what she thought was Parma ham which she later discovered were actually raw bacon. Such is life. chez Marian.