This Charming Man is the story of three women who have one thing in common: Paddy de Courcy, a striking, charming, and utterly slimy Irish politician. Marnie and Grace are twin sisters; Marnie is a working mother who has two beautiful young daughters and a supportive husband. But lately, she’s been slipping into dark places that no amount of anti-depressants can cure. The only thing that can help? Copious amounts of alcohol. Grace is a journalist who helplessly watches the downward spiral of alcoholism her sister embarks into, while also trying to make things work with her lovely boyfriend, Damien. And Lola is a stylist who has had her heart broken and her business has suffered for it. Desperate, she retreats to County Clare (far enough away, yet close enough to where she can still make the journey back to Dublin relatively quickly – via the Kildare Bypass, of course) and begins to rebuild her life. As the book unfolds, these three women come to terms with Paddy’s true nature and how it has impacted their lives.
As a die-hard Marian Keyes fan (I own every single one of her books), I was disappointed when I heard that her latest wouldn’t be about the Walsh sisters. But the disappointment quickly faded when I learned that she would be dealing with some very serious topics: alcoholism and physical/emotional abuse. Keyes has already tackled alcoholism in a previous book, Rachel’s Holiday, but I believe that abuse is new territory for her as an author. Now, it might seem strange that my disappointment actually lessened when I discovered that she would write about weighty topics – after all, isn’t Marian Keyes supposed to be a light, funny, chick lit author? Well, yes. But Keyes is, in my opinion, largely responsible for evolving chick lit into something entirely new. Her book Anybody Out There dealt with the death of a loved one with grace and beauty, but without it weighing too heavily on the reader. It was still fresh and funny, but had a depth rarely achieved in chick lit. (If you haven’t read it, please go to the bookstore and pick it up immediately – it is by far my favorite chick lit novel).
This Charming Man doesn’t disappoint on this front; it deals with serious topics without adding any weight to the reader. It is still funny and amusing, and while some of the descriptions of Marnie’s powerlessness over alcohol are horrifying, it doesn’t leave the reader feeling burdened. While I can’t say she improved on Anybody Out There, this book is more than worthy to go on my shelf next to it.
The only complaint I have about This Charming Man? Lola’s voice. While her story was interesting, it was written in shorthand, often neglecting pronouns, or even verbs. For example: “Tore self from embrace, like attention seeking type in melodrama.” While I understand that it was supposed to be more of a journal entry type narrative, and it made Lola’s voice distinctive, I still had trouble reading it because it was just flat out annoying.
But besides that minor grievance, I definitely recommend This Charming Man. It is wonderfully written, somehow funny and serious and the same time. The characters are wonderful and I could tell that to Keyes, they were people that she cared about. Nothing else could explain the masterful method through which she crafts her characters. Their strength and courage in the face of hopelessness and despair is a real testament to the sheer force of will that is a woman.