Review: Pieces of my Heart By Sinead Moriarty
Penguin Ireland €14.99
Chick-lit humour undoing of important book
Attempt to negotiate a comic/tragic tightrope trivialises an otherwise good novel, says Anne Marie Scanlon
Published 12/09/2010 | 05:00
The best chick-lit manages a fine balance between light and dark, the very serious and the highly amusing.
Marian Keyes is the undisputed master of this -- seamlessly blending comedy and tragedy, and her books are both savagely funny yet at times heartbreakingly tragic. Keyes manages to make merging both ends of the emotional scale look easy. Too easy. It's not. It's extremely difficult to keep the balance between serious and silly (and everything that comes in between), without unduly trivialising the important subject matter or alternatively, making the humour seem hollow, mocking and out of place.
In Pieces of My Heart, Sinead Moriarty attempts to negotiate the comic/tragic tightrope but unfortunately she wobbles quite a bit. Poor Ava has a lot on her plate, her marriage is in a rut, her husband is obsessed with his business, she has her own demanding business to look after, two teenage daughters and a recently widowed father to cope with. Things become a lot worse when her eldest daughter, 17-year-old Alison, develops anorexia and begins rapidly starving herself to death. The book lurches from the serious topic of Ali's illness, which is very sensitively and realistically portrayed, to pure farce revolving around Ava's Viagra popping, sex-obsessed 68-year-old father (all that's missing is the Benny Hill theme music) and a cast of Poles, some even, God help us, actual pole dancers, who all speak like Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan, ("Me Polish. Me talk funny.").
It's obvious that Moriarty has done a lot of research into anorexia and her story goes to great lengths to remind readers that eating disorders are rarely about weight and diets, but are complex illnesses with no neat causes and no simple solutions. With that in mind, and given Moriarty's very sensitive portrayal of how the illness affects not just the person suffering it, but everyone in their immediate circle, the sudden explanation of the "underlying trauma" that occurred when Ali was nine seems contrived and totally out of place in the context of the greater story.
As if Ava didn't have enough to cope with, her best friend and business partner, Sally, at 43 is single, looking and invests in a bit of cosmetic surgery to mark her birthdays. When Sally does meet "the one" he is accompanied by a lunatic ex-wife who starts to stalk her. Sally is adamant that she does not want to have children, while her new boyfriend is equally adamant that he does. Sally could save herself a lot of time by just getting him to spend some time with Ava's younger daughter, 16-year-old Sarah, who is confident, outgoing, brash and outspoken. Sarah has no self-esteem issues -- in fact she has such a surplus of the stuff she could start a franchise. Sarah forms an unholy double act with new rugby star boyfriend (think Ross O'Carroll-Kelly but not as smart) and the pair prove a genuine source of comic relief.
Pieces of My Heart is a good book hampered by lots of extraneous nonsense that instead of adding to the story, just detracts from the very important core of the book. It's a shame Moriarty couldn't have stuck to the narrative about anorexia and the difficulties it leads to for everyone it touches as I'm sure there are plenty of readers who can identify with both Alison's and Ava's struggles and don't need to be annoyed by bells, whistles and pole-dancing Poles.