Tuesday 21 February 2017

Review: Fiction: The Time Of My Life by Cecelia Ahern

HarperCollins£16.99

Published 08/10/2011 | 05:00

Feelgood factor:
Cecelia Ahern
Picture: Barry McCall
Feelgood factor: Cecelia Ahern Picture: Barry McCall

Cecelia Ahern had plenty of reason to celebrate last week. The bestselling author had just turned 30 (there was a glitzy family party in a Dublin restaurant) but she has also just published her eighth book, The Time Of My Life.

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Eight years into her writing career, Ahern has sold a staggering 10 million copies of her novels worldwide and her personal fortune is estimated at around €10m too.

Ahern's success has also silenced the naysayers who in the beginning insisted she was only published because of who her father was.

Influential as Bertie Ahern may have been at the time, it's not likely he held much sway with readers of chicklit or with the international publishing giant HarperCollins who took Cecelia on. It was, in fact, Moira Reilly, the HarperCollins representative in Ireland, who spotted the potential, made the connection, and also introduced Cecelia to the agent Marianne Gunn O'Connor.

None of that, however, explains the publishing phenomenon that Cecelia Ahern has become. So what's her secret?

The first thing to understand is that the key to Ahern's success is not her writing. Her writing is perfectly functional. It is her storytelling that sets her apart.

It is storytelling that adds a touch of magic, a third dimension, to all of her romantic fiction tales. And it is this extra dimension that makes her chicklit unique and globally appealing.

From her debut PS I Love You to her last novel The Book Of Tomorrow, Ahern's stories have always included that third dimension -- letters from beyond the grave, an invisible friend, a book that tells the future, an organ transplant patient who takes on characteristics of the donor's personality.

It is this mix of old-fashioned romantic fiction and fairytale in each novel that has made Cecelia Ahern one of the most popular and successful writers today.

It's a niche in popular fiction she has created for herself and, most importantly, it travels: it appeals to readers around the world, which is why she sells so well in places like South America and Australia, as well as in the US and Europe.

Her new one is no different. But with The Time Of My Life, Ahern has taken on a dark and slippery subject in this 370-page novel. In fact, it might be her darkest book yet. This is a relative term, of course, in the world of Ahern.

Before readers become concerned that Ahern has swapped romantic tales for existential angst, fear not. This novel is still sticky with the pink glitter of magic but this time we are dealing with the general angst of life and how sometimes it's not all it's cracked up to be.

Lucy Silchester is dealing with the ungraspable problem of being stuck in a rut. About to turn 30, she is a tangled mess of malaise -- no boyfriend, no house, a job she hates, it's all going south for Lucy.

She tells herself soothing little lies about her life instead of changing things and the years fly by. Enter the magic. Lucy's life, tired of being ignored, neglected, mistreated and pushed aside, stages an intervention. This is what happens when you ignore your life; it comes knocking on your door and forces you to fix it.

When Lucy meets her life in person, he is not who she expected. He's unkempt and unshaven, his forehead is a disastrous flaky-skin area and he's renting office space in a shabby old building. It's not subtle but it's a fun idea.

When Lucy refuses to take action, Life throws her curveballs that force her to face up to facts. As she begins to address her problems, Life starts to smarten up. Suddenly he's looking better, clean-shaven, more groomed. You get the idea.

The premise of The Time Of My Life is as strong as any of Ahern's previous books and is certain to guarantee more of the same success.

As a writer, her stories are becoming tighter, smarter, more finely tuned and this one canters along with the smooth pace of experience and the satisfying sound of boxes being ticked (did I mention Don, the love interest with the fabulous eyes?).

Despite the frothy nature of genre, Ahern does tackle the problem of being stuck in a trough in great depth.

She deals with how easy it is to delude ourselves into believing life is fine when really we know things should be better. How we can sabotage ourselves by making wrong decisions; how we can get distracted from our dreams and goals by jobs and families and dry cleaning and the mechanics of everyday life. And how habit can keep us safe, comfortable and chained down in the slump we've grown accustomed to. It's a serious topic addressed with good humour.

Like her or loathe her, Ahern is a unique author. Her stories tell us anything is possible while taking universal problems as their premise. They offer a childlike hope that is comforting in its complete escapism.

In short, her novels are self-help in fictional form, taking a basic problem and giving us a feelgood solution. Here, Ahern makes Lucy's life a flesh-and-blood character to highlight how badly we sometimes treat our own lives and how, if that life were a real person, we would be ashamed to treat them so badly. So why are we happy to treat ourselves this way?

With The Time Of My Life Ahern has delivered another dead-cert winner.

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