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October 25, 2013 / ljbradburn-Smith

Helen’s Side of the Story

mystery of mercy close

I picked up this book and by the end of the first page I was thinking “hello there Marian, old friend, I’ve missed you”. However, Before I get to my inevitable praise for Marian Keyes, I do have to say that she has quite a lot to answer for! I hope she realises that every time she brings out a new book my desire to call in sick, snuggle in bed, and read for a week starts to feel like a necessity, rather than just a regular daydream. One of these days she could get me into some serious trouble at work!

This long-awaited novel is the last in the series of  Keyes’ novels about the Irish Walsh sisters. Helen has appeared in other books, in the series, perhaps most notably in Claire’s Story, Watermelon, where she is portrayed as the shallow, beautiful younger sister with an attitude to rival John McCririck’s and Anna’s story Anybody Out There, where she provides the laughs in her sister/best friend’s novel as Anna provides the tears. Years ago, my mum and I joked that, being portrayed as extremely shallow and self-important, perhaps this particular Keyes character didn’t have enough substance, to fill her own novel, but really we knew it was only a matter of time. Keyes hadn’t let us down before and I was sure she wasn’t about to start now.

Keyes’ five Walsh sisters are all very different and each have their own story to tell. Marian is notorious for not shying away from the serious issues in life, violence, addiction, drugs, relationship issues, bereavement and divorce have all played a part in the Walsh family novels and Helen’s story is no exception. In The Mystery of Mercy Close Marian highlights the issue of serious depression, which I know to be something which she has struggled with herself, in the past. For anyone who has felt the suffocating black hole of depression, close in around them, this novel will most likely feel very close to home.

As always though, Marian’s writing balances the hardest parts of life with hope that all isn’t lost. She injects a lot of humour and small touching moments into her plot, which give her protagonist and her readers a reason to carry on. Marian writes with such understanding, honesty and insight into families, sibling bonds and life in general that you can’t help but find her novels heartwarming. Her writing is very real and if you have an Irish family or know one it will definitely have you nodding in recognition before too long.

In The Mystery of Mercy Close we see fiercely independent Helen step out of the shadow, of her older sisters, and become a fantastic Keyes character in her own right. We finally get an insight into Helen’s world as we watch her juggle relationships, family and her job with her all consuming fear that the world might not end and that she will have to find a way to struggle through yet another day. With so much going on in Helen’s head this novel seems like it spans a lot more time than it actually does, which I think is Marian making a point about depression causing you to live in your head rather than in the moment and the amount of space and time that it can take up in a person’s life.

Although a reader of the other novels in the series may have approached Helen with some trepidation, due to her reputation preceding her, we soon find out that her bark is much worse than her bite and there is actually an incredibly vulnerable person hidden beneath her spiky exterior. Unsurprisingly, given her penchant for the exotic Helen’s chosen career is much more interesting than a job in the office and in this instance takes her down a celebrity chasing path in the hunt for missing Laddz member, Wayne Diffney. Helen finds herself drawn to this case and soon begins thinking that she may have more in common with Wayne than just his taste in gangrenous paint colours.

The only thing, and really it was the only thing, that I found just a little bit annoying were Helen’s categorization of her experiences through using the phrase “to my surprise (category: slightly irritating)” etc. I’m not sure why that annoyed me, I think it was because I just felt it wasn’t needed and was a slight distraction from what I was reading. However, I forgave Keyes for that because of her invention of Helen’s shovel list, which consists of people and things she hates so much she wants to hit them in the face with a shovel. This served as a reminder that the old fiery Helen, that we knew and loved, was still lurking just below the surface.

Once again Keyes delivers a fantastically funny novel with a strong female presence who may just leave you feeling comforted and a more than a little bit hopeful about your own life.

P.s Top of my shovel list right now is the fact that there are no Walsh sisters left for me to read about, although I definitely won’t be hitting Marian in the face with a shovel anytime soon, I love her far too much for that.

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