I was very lucky to be sent a review copy of Marian Keyes’ latest novel, The Woman Who Stole My Life, by the kind folks over at Penguin a few weeks ago and I sped through it last week. I’ve been a Marian Keyes fan since the nineties, and this book was fab read!
Stella Sweeney is a beauty therapist in her late thirties living in Dublin. She’s married to Ryan, and has two teenage children, Betsy and Jeffrey, and although famlyl life isn’t rainbows and sunshine all the time, they get along mostly fine. Stella’s life changes forever one morning when she becomes deathly ill, and is rushed to hospital unable to move, and eventually unable to breathe. One emergency tracheotomy later, and Stella is brought back from death’s door, but is trapped in her own body, full conscious, and unable to move, speak or breathe on her own. Turns out she has a rare disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome – a disease where the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system by mistake.
Stella’s illness lasts for months and months, and the only way she can communicate from her hospital bed is by blinking her eyes. Her husband and children can’t seem to grasp the system of communication and often end up exasperated and hostile towards her for daring to be unwell, but her neurologist, Mannix Taylor understands her instantly. His daily visits become less doctor/patient and more like a friendship, though Stella senses something more. When she finally recovers and goes back home to her increasingly unhappy life, she banishes the thought of Mannix from her mind and focuses on recovering from the collapse of her marriage. One morning in the beauty salon she co-owns with her sister an unexpected delivery of a box of book authored by Stella brings Mannix crashing back into her life.
Despite not technically writing the book, Stella’s life is turned upside as she relocates with her kids to New York to begin promoting her book on an endless stream of talk shows, motivational talks and spiritual news articles. The trouble is, Stella isn’t inherently spiritual or inspirational and her book starts tanking faster than a bag of bricks in the Yarra River. If it weren’t for her friend Gilda, New York would be a completely depressing experience. But Stella starts to realise that even Gilda isn’t what she seems, her publishers lose interest, and Gilda, New York, and all the fame that comes with it are slowly poisoning everything in her life.
Keyes’ fifteenth fiction novel is a bitterly funny story told from Stella’s perspective, flashing backwards and forwards between Stella’s months of illness and her present day literary career. Stella’s good-natured candour versus her often irritated inner monologues is what Keyes does best. One of the things I’ve always loved about her books is the Irishness of them – the characters’ thoughts, words and attitudes are so bluntly and honestly Irish, and it’s a delight to read. The slightest observation between Stella and her sister, or a conversation between Ryan, her ex-husband, and her son are perfectly nuanced and made me giggle out loud a number of times while reading. Often times it was the unlikeableness of a particular character, and how Stella felt about them is what made them more enjoyable. Each chapter reveals, bit by bit, the journey that brought Stella to New York and then back to Dublin in a nicely paced manner that leaves the reader wanting to know more before becoming engrossed in the next chapter.
Like most Marian Keyes books, The Woman Who Stole My Life is a fun, easy read that will have you absorbed from the minute you crack it open. Full of witty, pithy characters, and tender, heart-wrenching moments as Stella grapples with recovering from a number of life-altering events. It will leave you with warm fuzzy feelings. But above all, it’s a really good read that will inject a good dose of humour into your day whenever you pick it up, which is what makes me keep reading Marian Keyes novels year after year.
The Woman Who Stole My Life is available to buy now from Penguin for $29.99 – Christmas is just around the corner guys. Treat someone you know to a good read this December. Or yourself. Either way, you’ll come out a winner!
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