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Edel Coffey on My Favourite Mistake by Marian Keyes: Rich, and multilayered storytelling

Author’s humanity as much as her humour keeps readers coming back

My Favourite Mistake
My Favourite Mistake
Author: Marian Keyes
ISBN-13: 978-0241441145
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Guideline Price: £22

Reading a great Marian Keyes novel is a bit like being at a really good Irish funeral – just as you’re sobbing into your egg-mayonnaise sandwich someone cracks a joke and you’re laughing again. Keyes’s latest novel, My Favourite Mistake, returns to her serial characters, the Walsh family. 48-year-old Anna Walsh is a high-flying beauty PR living and working in New York. When the pandemic hits and her relationship ends, she returns to Ireland to the bosom of her family, who are understandably alarmed that their lifetime supply of free beauty products is at an end. Meanwhile, two old friends Bridget and Colm, are building a luxury retreat in Connemara, but work has stalled due to local protests. Anna is dispatched to the West to deal with the PR crisis. The problem is Joey Armstrong, with whom Anna shares a complicated history, is involved in the deal.

Running alongside this main plot is Anna’s personal experience as a woman in her forties. When her plight to get HRT is thwarted by a young male doctor who smugly tells her we over-medicalise this perfectly natural part of a woman’s life, her sister Claire rages: ‘If a man came in with an itchy b*****k, he’d be prescribed painkillers, antihistamines and a hot girl in a porn-y nurse’s costume to scratch it for him. But if a woman shows up with a sinus infection or a verruca, they get antidepressants. Except if they’re actually depressed, then they’re told to get a dog.’

This comedy is laced all the way through the book but the other reason Keyes’s books continue to be so enjoyable and successful is that beneath the humour lies raw and recognisable human experience. What happens when we fall out of love with of our own life, or when our most important friendships fall apart or when the person we love the most is taken from us? What happens when our dreams are dashed or we are too afraid to take a chance on happiness? It’s Keyes’s humanity as much as her humour that keeps readers coming back.

With rich, and multilayered storytelling, My Favourite Mistake is everything Marian Keyes fans could hope for – wise, charming, funny, poignant, profound and insightful, with an utterly satisfying ending. In other words, she’s done it again.

Edel Coffey

Edel Coffey

Edel Coffey, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a journalist and broadcaster. Her first novel, Breaking Point, is published by Sphere