Years ago, when I was a book snob after my English lit degree, I wouldn’t have read Marian Keyes. It was firmly in the category of chick-lit and that meant it would be ‘easy-reading’. The literary equivalent of easy listening music, pleasant but no depth, just tinkling on in the background when I wanted my reads to grab me, make me think and blow me away. It was reading Jojo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ that put me onto Rachel’s Holiday and the Walsh family. Before I knew it I was racing through her back catalogue and loving every minute of it. It helps that she’s also an incredible woman, mad as a box of frogs and funny, enthusiastic about what she loves and chatters on ten to the dozen. She’d fit right in with my family and is one of the first people I’d invite to a fantasy dinner party. If I had to pick one thing about her writing that makes it so good, amply demonstrated in this novel, it’s that she provided a family tree to keep track of the characters and how they were related to each other, but I didn’t need it once. Each and every character was so real and so distinct that I felt I knew them all personally.
Ed, Johnny and Liam are brothers and enjoy a large extended family. Their background isn’t great, in fact their parents are awful people – demonstrated at their golden wedding anniversary when their father’s speech manipulated and put down each of his sons in turn. Ed has never had that feeling of being grounded, of belonging somewhere, until he met his wife Cara. She makes him feel safe. Cara has a head receptionist role at the Ardglass Hotel in Dublin and they have two children. Cara has always had problems with her body image and has been yo-yo dieting ever since Ed met her. She can’t seem to resist bingeing on chocolate and then hates herself for having no will-power, but is this cycle of overeating just a blip or is she heading for something more serious? Jonny and Jessie are the successful pair in the family, running their own chain of specialist food shops and a cookery school. Jessie had the original idea, with Jonny and his best friend Rory Kinsella going to work for her several years later. However, it was Rory who won Jessie’s heart and they were married with two children when he died suddenly. The Kinsella family were like a second family for Jonny, especially Rory’s dad Michael who had been a surrogate father since his own was so lacking. They all grieved together, until two years later when Jonny and Jessie found themselves drawn to each other. Surely the Kinsellas would be happy for them? Now years on, with three more children, and despite being a good husband and stepfather to Ferdia and Saoirse, the Kinsellas had cut themselves off from their former daughter-in-law. It was probably for this reason that Jessie focussed so much time on their family spending time together, all three brothers and their respective families spent Easter and many other holidays together, with Jessie even footing the bill to make it happen. Yet neither had ever really given up hope that everyone would be reunited in time, but time runs out and so does money.
Liam is the youngest brother, an ardent runner in his prime he now had to cycle thanks to a difficult knee injury. Handsome and charming, it never took very long for him to get what he wanted in life. Most would say he had a charmed life, despite his split with wife Paige and her relocation to the US with his two daughters, who are missed terribly by their cousins. In an incredible financial settlement, Liam lives in an apartment in Dublin paid for by Paige. When he meets Nell, a young set designer full of idealism and principles, he has to have her. Nell is beautiful, with cascades of pink hair and a quirky dress sense that comes from never buying anything new. She’s so passionate about art and conveying the message of a play through her set, plus she’s passionate about so many causes. The family love her and she brings her outlook on life to everyone, especially Liam’s nephew Ferdia who has similar opinions but never does anything to back them up. The family are surprised when the couple get married in an ice hotel on the arctic circle. Since the wedding though, despite Nell throwing herself into the family and their rather claustrophobic way of doing everything together, Liam hasn’t seemed the same. He starts to drop out of things she’s planned, branding them boring, and then chips away at her confidence. When she has a good review saying she’s the most exciting new designer in the country – he points out that Ireland is a very small place. He’s also very creepy, ogling his young niece’s friends and his nephew’s girlfriend. Nell is drawn to Ferdia, young, ethical and concerned with social justice, but can they be friends?
I loved how Marian Keyes presents the image of a perfect family that others must see, when they gather for an Easter Egg Hunt at a luxury hotel or holiday together in a Tuscan villa. Then she undermines it by showing that none of these people, or their relationships, are perfect. Her depiction of Cara’s eating problems were familiar to me because I’ve also had that urge to eat my feelings from time to time. I thought the way Cara down played the seriousness of her bulimia was realistic and the resistance to treating it as an addiction also rang true. Her counsellor was also brilliant, firm and not pulling her punches about the road ahead for Cara as a patient. If there was anyone I was rooting for it was Cara and husband Ed. Getting married again when you’re a widow is also something I know about and the relationship dynamics are so fragile. Luckily for me my lat husband’s family were very understanding and I treated them with respect, being up front and letting them know everything early on. I really felt for Jessie, but in the early chapters I really didn’t understand her desperate need for the whole family to get together constantly. There was a moment where she’s laid on a pool lounger with all the kids (bunnies) piled on top of her and she’s supremely happy. Then I got it. The friendship she had with Rory’s sisters Izzy and Keeva was the first real friendship she had and being part of the Kinsella tribe was just as important to her as it was to Jonny. She needed to belong. Strangely I also felt for Nell. I liked her as a person and thought she had been love-bombed by Liam into a marriage without truly knowing who he was. I really loathed him and that’s rare for me. He was lazy, living entirely off his ex-wife and not making any effort to see or maintain his relationship with his children. The way he commented on her talent and gaslighted her made me furious. I wanted Nell to have the romantic happy ending. In this book Marian Keyes has punctured that Instagram perfection many families seem to project these days. It’s also a welcome reminder that we never know what another person is going through, even the person lying next to us. I also found the message that we have to work on ourselves, take responsibility and live authentically, very empowering. I truly enjoyed my time as a fly on the wall with this family and laughed out loud so much that my other half commented on how much I seemed to be enjoying it.
Meet The Author
Marian Keyes is the international bestselling author of Watermelon, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Rachel’s Holiday, Last Chance Saloon, Sushi for Beginners, Angels, The Other Side of the Story, Anybody Out There, This Charming Man, The Brightest Star in the Sky , The Mystery of Mercy Close, The Woman Who Stole My Life, The Break and her latest Number One bestseller, Grown Ups. Her two collections of journalism, Making it up as I Go Along and Under the Duvet: Deluxe Edition are also available from Penguin.
2 thoughts on “Grown-Ups by Marian Keyes.”
She’s brilliant at writing about family dynamics and creating madcap families!
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Exactly and they feel so real, I love that people are allowed to mess up and still be loveable xx
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