Tuesday 24 April 2018

Books: Enjoyable look back at Keyes's musings is a pleasant surprise

Non-fiction: Making It Up As I Go Along, Marian Keyes, Penguin, pbk, 439 pages, €19.50

Bite-sized: Keyes's collection is a treat to dip in and out of
Bite-sized: Keyes's collection is a treat to dip in and out of
Making It Up As I Go Along - Marian Keyes

Edel Coffey

There's something about a collection of author's musings brought together in a book that simply screams "stop-gap money-spinner". When a novelist releases this kind of patchwork collection of articles written for various publications, as well as their own website, over a period of a decade, it can make the reader feel a little short-changed. After all, with the exception of a handful of pieces, these articles have all been published already.

These were the curmudgeonly sort of thoughts I was thinking as I started browsing through Marian Keyes's new book, Making It Up As I Go Along - and it is the kind of book you browse through, rather than read from start to finish, the pieces arranged under subject headings like 'Friends and Family', 'Soul-Searching' and 'What Would Scrooge Do?' But a funny thing happened as I was griping away to myself about the fact that some of these pieces dated as far back as 2007, I got distracted by the fact that I was enjoying myself immensely.

Keyes is peculiar amongst authors in that her writing voice sounds exactly like her talking voice, to the extent that she even spells certain words phonetically, like "Clee-Yongs", an attempt to emulate a French, and thus posh, pronunciation of the word "clients" (say it out loud and see). The lexicon at the beginning of this volume is something to behold, and Dubliners particularly will enjoy her revival of certain words, along with her myriad terms for "eejit" and "inebriated". Any good Irish person will agree there is a need for so many synonyms.

This is not Keyes's first journalism collection. Her 2001 collection, Under the Duvet, was hugely enjoyable. In fact, her journalism is as enjoyable as her fiction, particularly as she has more recently focused on a darker seam, exploring the tail end of her breakdown and coming to terms with turning 50, ageing, beauty, weight gain, and family, among other topics. Keyes's writing about her family is very familiar to her much-loved fictional family, the Walshes. On the subject of family, the long time-span of these articles actually comes in handy as you grow to know the family over a long period of time.

The more moving articles here are predictably her more recent writings, a month-by-month diary for a year, and her never-before-published piece 'Turning 50', which is an attempt to become more self-aware and full of no-nonsense common sense.

One of my favourite pieces in the book is entitled 'My Perfect Life', which is Keyes writing the kind of day-in-the-life piece she says she wishes she could write. The piece simultaneously reveals all of her deepest insecurities while sending up the crazy expectations women put on themselves, not to mention a slyly subversive dig at those who refuse to rate her success when she writes the line: "I write novels that are huge bestsellers and get critical acclaim, so not once have I been insulted at a party by people asking, 'Just how many of your bonkbusters do you churn out a year?'"

Keyes's brilliance is in her ability to stay in touch with ordinary life (who hasn't looked at their remote control and thought 'Christ ALIVE, when was the last time this was cleaned?'), and to be open about her struggles with the things so many of us battle with; depression, trying to find meaning in our lives, and trying to accept ourselves.

Ultimately, this collection is hugely enjoyable, particularly in its episodic nature that you can dip in and out of. A must-read for Keyes fans but also a good place to start, and probably a pleasant surprise for those who haven't read Keyes before but think they know what she is all about.

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