The Break by Marian Keyes – Review
By Rachael Popow
At one point during Marian Keyes’ new novel The Break, the heroine and narrator Amy complains that her conversation with her friends wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test (the criteria that judges a work of fiction on whether they have at least two female characters who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man).
It’s a test Keyes’ books pass with flying colours. Although some critics may dismiss her work as ‘chick lit’, over the course of her career she’s tackled some very big subjects, including addiction, domestic violence and sexual assault. Her 2012 novel The Mystery of Mercy Close, which for me still remains her best, pulls off the difficult feat of being a moving and frequently very funny story about suicidal depression.
“Return to form”
The Break is no exception. It focuses on PR woman Amy, whose husband Hugh shocks her by announcing that he wants to take a six-month time-out from their marriage and their children (Amy’s adult daughter Neeve from a previous relationship, teenager Kiara and niece Sofie, who they’ve unofficially adopted), and go travelling alone in Asia. He claims he doesn’t want them to break up, but Amy understandably fears that even if he does come back, their relationship will never be the same again. As she comes to terms with that – and the dawning realisation that if Hugh is on a break, then so is she – she also has to deal with a subplot that explores the way women’s choices are restricted by Irish law.
The look at the issues affecting women’s lives isn’t the only familiar Keyes element in The Break, which marks a return to form after 2014’s slightly underwhelming The Woman Who Stole My Life. The main character has a career that seems glamorous from the outside, there’s a large, loud family and someone has a job that involves getting free makeup.
And, like the vast majority of her books, it’s also compulsively readable and filled with sharp, witty observations. Keyes is particularly good on how the state of Amy’s marriage affects her friendships, from the mate dealing with her own split, who seems a little too pleased at the prospect of having someone to be bitter with, to the ‘frenemy’ who rushes around with a casserole, undermining Amy’s attempts to spin the temporary split as a positive. (Although one friend does suggest that, like their membership of an arty cinema club, one of their circle having an open marriage is just a sign of how sophisticated they’ve become).
In fact, there are so many characters that some of them end up being slightly short-changed – a plot about Amy’s mother’s own potential new start feels rushed, and I would have liked to have seen more of Sofie’s mum, a woman who has monetised an eating disorder by becoming a self-styled nutritionist.
But Amy’s own story is always involving, and makes it very difficult to take breaks from this hugely enjoyable book.
‘The Break’ by Marian Keyes is published by Michael Joseph, £20 hardback