'Myself and Hugh . . . We're taking a break.'
'A city-with-fancy-food sort of break?'
Amy's husband Hugh says he isn't leaving her.
He still loves her, he's just taking a break - from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. Six months to lose himself in south-east Asia. And there is nothing Amy can say or do about it.
Yes, it's a mid-life crisis, but let's be clear: a break isn't a break up - yet . . .
However, for Amy it's enough to send her - along with her extended family of gossips, misfits and troublemakers - teetering over the edge.
For a lot can happen in six-months. When Hugh returns if he returns, will he be the same man she married? And will Amy be the same woman?
Because if Hugh is on a break from their marriage, then isn't she?
The Break isn't a story about falling in love but about staying in love. It is Marian Keyes at her funniest, wisest and brilliant best.
It's not news to anyone who has ever asked me about writing and who I admire that I am a huge fan of Marian Keyes. Like - I even embarrass myself with how gushing I am about her - and having now met her a few times, I have made a complete gom of myself on each occasion.
You would think then that being such a huge fan of Marian Keyes would mean reading this book and reviewing it would be a breeze; but it hasn't been for a number of reasons.
1) Before I started to read I took the fear that I wouldn't like it and then I would be all embarrassed around Marian and when she asked (if she asked) if I liked the book I'd have to do that awkward cough and stare at the floor thing or change the subject or feign sudden onset muteness.
2) Second of all, I knew if I reviewed it, there was a chance herself would read the review and therefore the pressure for this to be well written and not stalker-y levels of gushing is high.
3) Thirdly of all, as soon as I heard what this book was about I felt tight knot in the pit of my stomach because already I knew that I would relate to Amy. I would get that person in a bit of a rut and not sure what she wants-itis about it all. I've made a number of huge life decisions in the last year and while they don't directly mirror Amy's - I knew there would be a resonance there. And it scared me a bit.
I was almost scared to start reading - but when I did, I had to fight between the urge to read-it-all-now and the urge to eek it out in little treat size pieces because I didn't want it to end. I didn't want it to end because Keyes writes characters so well you feel as if you know them - they are real, and raw, and flawed, and funny and they fuck up sometimes. They become friends you become heavily invested in.
What this book brings the reader is a marriage in a state of flux - and a woman who has always been there for everyone else finding that the rug has been pulled resoundly from under her feet. She doesn't know how to cope - she lurches from day to day, trying to hold family, friends and work together - managing other people's crises with aplomb while enduring the biggest crisis of her life.
That might sound a bit grim - but it isn't. As with the likes of Rachel's Holiday - Keyes has a way of writing on very serious subjects in a way that pulls the reader in without pulling the reader down. While Amy exists in a void of grief and loss, making some suspect decisions along the way - the reader never feels as if she is wallowing.
She is a strong woman - one of those "didn't know how strong she was until she had to be" characters who you cheer for and want to hug.
Similarly as with the magnificent Walsh family books, Keyes has created such a memorable cast of supporting characters that the book never feels overwritten, padded out or feels as if it has too much focus on Amy.
From her daughters, to her mother (Lillian O'Connell, Mother of Five) to her work colleague Alistair (I love him, I really do. Everyone should know an Alistair) - the characters are brilliantly drawn. They will have you laughing out loud one minute, sobbing the next and cheering the minute after that.
With her finger very firmly on the pulse, Keyes also tackles some pretty heavy issues in this book. She has spoken before how this book involves a take on the Eighth Amendment and the impact it has on women in Ireland. These chapters are strong, emotive, angry even. That Keyes has used her celebrity to speak out so strongly for the 12 women a day who leave Ireland to travel to England is admirable - but it doesn't feel preachy. It doesn't feel shoe-horned into the book to make a point.
I have to admit as much as I LOVE Marian - I would hate to be her. The pressure that she must feel as she releases each new book - with hoards of fans waiting eagerly must be immense. I think I would find it particularly crippling. Has this latest book hit the mark? Will it live up to the greatness of her previous books? Will it help her maintain her position as Queen of Commercial Fiction?
For what my opinion is worth - yes.
This book, more than any other of her's, profoundly touched me. I felt as if Marian was in my head - actually reading my thoughts, my fears, my worries - and putting them on a page for everyone to read. (Killing me Softly with her Books! Sing it if you know it!)
I stayed up until 5am to finish reading it - and when I did, I cried because it was done. And it was brilliant.
No one writes like Marian. No one should even try - her voice is unique, strong and distinctive. Her ability to pull away the layers of the human condition is remarkable.
This book is, simply, brilliant. Her best yet. It has done what I thought was impossible and surpassed Rachel's Holiday in my estimation. It will be the must read book of Autumn 2017.
(And the dirty bits are fecking brilliant too!).
The Break will be published by Penguin/ Michael Joseph on September 7.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.