Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the brilliant experience of buddy reading with my eldest stepdaughter. I bought her Rachel’s Holiday and this sequel Again, Rachel for Christmas and she decided to read them in her down time from revising for her A’Levels. I realised it would be a great opportunity to share the reading experience together. I finished this on my weekend away and I genuinely found it hard to look up from the story. For the author, the anxiety of revisiting a much loved character must be huge, because I felt it too. I’d kept it on one side for this long because of that anxiety. I loved Rachel and the whole Walsh family and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what happened next. We’re twenty years on from the end of the last book and Rachel is settled, with a job she loves and a happy home. She works as a senior counsellor at The Cloisters – the place where she started her own recovery journey. She owns a beautiful little house and a garden that’s become an unexpected part of her ongoing recovery and mental well-being. She also has a little dog, Crunchie. There’s also a man, Nick Quinliven (known as Quin) who has a penchant for trying new and exciting things from from the latest restaurant to wild swimming and escape rooms. They haven’t said they love each other yet, but he is an important part of her life. Life is great until Rachel hears that Rose Costello has died. Rose was her mother-in-law and although she hasn’t seen her since she and Luke divorced, she does feel an obligation. Should she go to the funeral or not?
Rachel and Luke have never spoken since he left their Brooklyn flat several years ago and cut all contact. I kept thinking what on earth could have separated these two people who really loved each other? Skilfully taking us back and forth in time, Marian Keyes constructs the intervening years as Rachel copes with the unexpected present and the painful past. Rachel’s whole life is upended as she sees Luke for the first time and tries to cope with the emotions of their reunion. However, she’s also plunged deeply into the past and the reasons she and Luke ended. Rachel is emotionally intelligent and knows all about buried trauma, but is surprised when she experiences all of those emotions afresh as if it only happened yesterday. It upsets her equilibrium, but has that sense of calm recovery merely been a front? Rachel hasn’t wilfully deceived others. She’s deceived herself. Is her version of what happened back then even the truth? If given the chance to connect with Luke and unpick their past, should she take it?
Marian Keyes really knows her stuff when it comes to addiction and mental health. It’s always a joy to read her books because they’re so emotionally intelligent. This framework provides so much depth to the characters and their story. Here she shows us a wounded healer, as Rachel struggles through addiction and loss, but still supports clients to achieve psychological change. I love her courage, because anyone who uses their own pain to help others is an incredible human being. I love how Keyes describes group sessions, as Rachel keeps her boundaries and sticks to her script, no matter how strongly she might be identifying with the client or feeling deeply moved by their story. We get to see that conflict in her; as a human being she might want to comfort that person, but as a therapist she must hold back to effect change. She knows that sometimes it’s important to sit with the feelings, to truly feel negative emotions without distractions or outside comfort. They always pass. I loved the wisdom she’s acquired over the years and how she rides to cope with her own trauma the same way.
I was deeply moved by Luke and Rachel’s experience because I’ve been through something similar. It made some parts hard to read, but it was written beautifully and with an accuracy I really appreciated. Keyes offsets the sadness with the usual comic touches, with Walsh family conferences being a great source of humour. All the sisters have their own idiosyncratic characters, causing conflict at times but we know that love is always present. Mrs Walsh is typically overbearing and contrary and her upcoming ‘surprise’ birthday party is an extra source of stress, especially when she decides to invite her ex-son-in-law. Luckily, the meticulously organised Claire has everything in hand, despite also trying to negotiate a session of swinging for her and her husband. Husband Adam is reluctant, but once convinced he becomes so enthusiastic that Claire is furious with him! The love stories are convincing and both Rachel’s current beau Quin and ex-husband Luke have their strengths. I held out hope for Quin and Rachel because I thought they suited each other. However, once Luke is on the scene the chemistry and unfinished business between him and Rachel is undeniable. Quin isn’t the only obstacle either, Luke’s partner Callie is with him in Ireland and seems very determined to keep Rachel close. I didn’t know if Rachel and Luke would be able to move past their history and connect again, as the people they are now. I loved how they tried their hardest to work through what happened, despite the pain it’s clearly causing. Could they possibly remain friends and share their loss, after all only the two of them can fully understand what they went through. Despite knowing that that Rachel didn’t need either man to build a happy life, I knew where my loyalties as we approached the end. Oh what an ending!! I was snap chatting my stepdaughter and we’d both cried buckets at the ending. I was so glad that Marian Keyes had been brave enough to revisit Rachel again.
Published by Penguin 13th April 2023
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.