It is with little shame that I admit to reading chick-lit. When you are a woman whose greatest lovers were Ben and Jerry’s growing up, one becomes accustomed to living vicariously through others. Books thankfully had – and remain to have – the ability to give me all of the drama but none of the risk. Because what would you do if your husband of 20 years said he wanted a break? And what would you do if the politics of your relationships were consequently rearranged? Marian Keyes’ The Break is poised to both tentatively and humorously explore the marital issues faced in a modern day society and the ethics of self-discovery.
Although a partner in a small PR company, 44yr old Amy has found no story in need of damage control quite like her own. After a series of challenging months, Amy’s husband, Hugh, informs her that he is embarking on a 6-month trip around South East Asia…alone. Despite his promises to return, he confesses that he will sever all contact for the break’s duration and that sex with other women is probable. Leaving Amy and three children behind, he sets off with nothing but a rucksack, a quick-dry towel and a new sense of freedom in tow. However, Hugh is not the only one with some self searching to do. After all, is he the only party to blame in all of this? In the aftermath of his departure, Amy slowly pieces her life back together only to find that some parts don’t fit any longer. Thrown into the local spotlight, Amy must navigate the societal minefield of changing marital status and, ultimately, forge a life after Hugh.
What I love about this book is that the storyline is far from one dimensional. Despite the focal narrative being about Amy and her emotional journey, it’s also about the various relationships that encircle her. The warmth that emanates from Keyes’ characters, honestly, make this book a sheer joy to read and a captivating representation of day-to-day life. Explored with the lightest of touches, this novel covers a range of grievances one must overcome as not only a wife, but as both a parent and a child. Amy sees her situation somewhat mirrored in her parents’ relationship. As Alzheimer’s claims her father, Amy’s mother seizes sort-of-single life through YouTube makeovers and gin dates with so-called “friends”. Told from Amy’s perspective there is a real sense of living each day with her; facing both the mundaneness and the madness of modern life hans-solo. It is therefore no wonder that I laughed and cried from start to finish of this book. The awkward post break-up convos, the all-consuming loss and the hilarious family banter felt all too familiar. Hugh is not perfect but we soon see that neither is anybody.
What I didn’t like about this book was its rather ill-fitted abortion plot line. Given The Break is already dense in weight, the shoe-horning of a topic as sensitive as this felt unnecessary and, dare I say, heavy-handed. Although, I believe it was intended to embolden those women in Ireland whom were voting on the legalization of abortion around its release. This narrative just didn’t feel as natural as other elements in the story. I have a great deal of admiration for Keyes for discussing this topic in many of her books, but having known several women that have had to make such a decision, I felt the topic was not dealt with the subtle complexity it deserved in this particular case. In all honesty, it felt more of a means to accentuate Amy’s single-mumness and provide readers with another reason to hate Hugh for having fun in Thailand.
All in all Keyes does far more good than she does bad in this new novel. It really isn’t hard to see why it has earned such praise. Hefty in size, readers truly get more for their money. Powerful and funny in equal parts, this book is the perfect companion for anyone in the midst of a break…
…a lunch break perhaps.