Friday 13 December 2019

So the two Marians didn't get along - it's just chemistry

Marian Keyes
Marian Keyes
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Was Marian Keyes right to say - after her recent radio interview with Marian Finucane - that the broadcaster "has the compassion and empathy of a cardboard box - even my mammy called her a bad word"?

Obviously, she was entitled to express her feelings. And obviously, too, she spoke from her heart when she said: "I tried my best but feel sh**ty and ashamed and frustrated that 'Marian's tragic tragicness' seems to be the most interesting thing about me." She claimed she suffered 43 hours of sleeplessness after the RTE encounter.

But, lady, as Dorothy Parker might have said, that's often the way people feel after a media broadcast. The late, pioneering TV broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy once said: "Every time I appear on TV I come away feeling that I've been caught masturbating in public". A sense of shame can accompany any element of self-revelation via the airwaves or cathode tube.

Yet objectively, Marian Finucane's interview with her near-namesake Marian Keyes was neither hostile nor unsympathetic. Indeed, I would have said that Finucane could have pressed Keyes a little more on several points.

For example, Marian K repeatedly claimed people who have a physical disease, such as cancer or emphysema, are never asked whether they brought it on themselves - whereas individuals suffering from a depressive illness may feel "blamed" for their malady.

But it's simply not true that people with physical illnesses are not "blamed" or held responsible. If you suffer from pulmonary illness, heart problems, or stroke, the first question asked is: "Do you, or did you, smoke?" Admonishment will soon come your way. Diabetes now attracts scolding about sugar intake, and women diagnosed with cervical cancer may be thought of as having been sexually promiscuous.

Marian F chose not to challenge this central point, but let the analogy pass each time it was mentioned. It was as if the broadcaster was aware that the novelist is a fragile person, and did not wish to argue aspects of medical fact. And Marian F went to some pains to extol Marian K's accomplishments: highlighting her 26 million book sales and the many warm-hearted followers the novelist attracts on social media. She described Keyes's latest novel as "a great read" and said at the end that this was "a great interview". The broadcaster was courteous and professional even during banal stretches - a rambling anecdote about searching for Lynn Barber's lost shoe at a London publishing party was hardly gripping.

Marian K seems to have been upset by Marian F's dwelling on depression rather than on the "happy, hopeful stuff" in her new novel. But she herself has often alluded to her experience of depression, and listeners are interested in her experience. It was absolutely appropriate of the broadcaster to return to the theme, which she handled sensitively, even sometimes with kid gloves.

Again, I would have challenged Marian K's assertion that depression isn't just "circumstantial" - but surely it can be? Post-natal depression is circumstantial - triggered by circumstances. And nowadays, people sometimes conflate depression with sorrow, grief, and the natural and circumstantial reaction to loss or unhappiness. But maybe that line of debate can only be followed with someone robust, not someone who is vulnerable and fragile. The truth is that when two people have an encounter, whether personal or professional, a lot depends on chemistry. The most unlikely duo can suddenly get along, and the most surprising pair can, for no reason, just grate on one another. It's nobody's fault. It's life.

But Marian Keyes should be assured that, to the listener, the other Marian did not show any lack of compassion or sympathy. The broadcast may even have helped to put Ms Keyes's new book, 'The Woman Who Stole My Life', top of the best-seller list.

@MaryKenny4

Irish Independent

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