Stories that will move the heart: Best popular fiction
Edel Coffey on the best Popular Fiction of 2014
It was a great year for popular fiction, with new books from old Irish reliables like Marian Keyes, Cecelia Ahern and Cathy Kelly, as well as an unexpected posthumous treat from the late Maeve Binchy.
The Woman Who Stole My Life - Marian Keyes Keyes's latest novel was a return to form after a few very difficult years struggling with depression. The Woman Who Stole My Life tells the story of beautician Stella Sweeney, who becomes an accidental self-help writer after she contracts a rare autoimmune disorder that attacks her nervous system. It renders her completely speechless for almost a year and the only person who manages to communicate with her is the dreamy neurologist, Manix Taylor. The book has elements of suspense to it as it is told in two time frames - the present tense, when Stella has recovered from her illness, had and lost success, and broken up with her husband, and the time when she is hospitalised for her condition. Keyes skilfully fills in the blanks between the two time periods. This is one of the most enjoyable romantic novels I have read this year. A must for Keyes fans. Uplifting, romantic, optimistic and thoroughly enjoyable. A welcome return from one of our best Popular Fiction writers.
The Year I Met You - Cecelia Ahern Fresh from her first win at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards this year (after eight nominations), Cecelia Ahern's 11th novel The Year I Met You is officially one of her best. This one marks a new subtlety in her writing with a quieter story than the ones she has previously been known for with their sprinklings of fairy dust. This is the story of Jasmine, a workaholic who is forced to take 'gardening leave' when she loses her employment. Without the distraction of her all-consuming job, she is forced to get to know her neighbours and to examine her life. Matt is one of these neighbours, a shock jock DJ who is having his own difficulties. His wife has left him, his son hates him and he is on his own enforced leave from work. The two are worlds apart and not inclined to like each other, and yet, as they get to know each other, they begin to learn from each other too. This is a heart-warming tale about the things we can learn from others if we put aside our preconceptions.
The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes - Anna McPartlin This was one of the stand-out novels of the year. Rabbit is a woman in her 40s who is dying of cancer. And this is both the story of her last days and the story of her life as she remembers back on it, on her greatest loves. Rabbit's 12-year-old daughter, her brother Davey and her parents and sister are all around her and through this we get to hear their life stories too. McPartlin's own mother died when she was young and so the story is infused with a real emotional authenticity. Bleak as it sounds, there is a warm love story at the heart of this novel. And the voice of Rabbit's daughter is really convincing.
It Started With Paris - Cathy Kelly The doyenne of Irish fiction and one of our biggest exports has returned faithfully with another new book in time for Christmas. This one takes one of the most romantic of all stories for its premise - at the top of the Eiffel Tower, Michael proposes to his girlfriend, Katy. But it's not cloying. When the elated couple get home, not everybody is consumed by their good news. People have their own problems and issues, and this is something Cathy Kelly does very well. Leila is on the other end of the love spectrum, trying to get over her husband's betrayal. Meanwhile, the widowed Vonnie is finding new love and Grace is thrown together with her ex-husband as their son is getting married. Kelly's range of characters covers all bases, making this a book for all ages. Romantic and enjoyable, a book to settle into by the fire.
If You Were Me - Sheila O'Flanagan Sheila O'Flanagan has sold more than four million books and her latest novel is a good reminder of why the Irish business journalist turned novelist is so popular. If You Were Me tells the story of Carlotta, a bit of a control freak whose world is thrown into uncharted water - which she very much does not like - when she runs into someone from her past. By accident, of course. Suddenly, all of Carlotta's carefully controlled moves are gone out the window and she is forced to make decisions based on how she feels, not on how she thinks. As a part-time inhabitant of Spain, O'Flanagan has a very authentic section of the story set in Seville. Romance that will force you to give up reason in favour of love.
Chestnut Street - Maeve Binchy When Maeve Binchy died in 2012, the loss to Irish fiction was huge. Binchy's storytelling was unique and earned her fans all over the world. This book of linked stories, therefore, was a surprise, found in a drawer in her study by her husband. It tells the stories of various characters living on the titular Chestnut Street. The characters are classic Binchy - fully human, full of pathos, and yearning, from the window cleaner Bucket Maguire to the fortune teller Madame Magic - and the stories are full of the humour and wisdom that made her so beloved. The perfect Christmas gift for Binchy fans who are still mourning her loss.
Us - David Nicholls David Nicholls' 2009 novel One Day was a break-out bestseller that went on to sell five million copies. The novel told the story of two college friends as their relationship progressed over the years and was a hit amongst 40-somethings who came of age in the 80s. It took a while, but Nicholls returned earlier this year with Us, the story of Douglas, his wife Connie and their teenage son Albie. Albie is about to leave home for college, which forces Connie to reappraise her marriage to Douglas. As they embark on one last summer holiday together, Nicholls watches a teenager become an adult and the story of a marriage unfold. Nicholls, is writing for the same market again, 40 and 50-somethings who have moved beyond boy-meets-girl stories and into long-term relationships which bring a host of other problems. It's a bleak enough book, but Nicholls manages to insert some of his dry humour into it. Fans of One Day will not be disappointed.