‘Grown Ups’ by Marian Keyes

Published and set in 2020, ‘Grown Ups’ by Marian Keyes is the story of an extended family, in which it steadily becomes apparent – to me, at least – that the grown-ups behave with varying degrees of childishness, and the children, with surprising maturity. In this family, the materfamilias Jessie, wife of the eldest brother of three, is energetic, opinionated, and since she does a lot of the decision-making and organising – her husband Johnny acting as her good-natured sidekick to hustle the orders and keep things running along smoothly – the family largely accept her lavish extravagance, her controlling ways, her certitude.

It must be hard to keep any large family on track; but then, I suspect that many of this extended family’s problems are, if not caused, at least exacerbated by the constant – and finally irritating – expectation that they gather all the time and show a jolly united front: birthdays, first communions, anniversaries, Easter and Christmas – no-one is exempt from the expectation that they turn up and hang out together for a few days, getting well fed and progressively drunker and spending their time, at Jessie’s insistence, in the lap of understated luxury, because, after all, it’s a special occasion.

That insistence and the way that it warps the normal, more human responses and everyday rebellions that most of us would hardly notice – will anyone ever get up the courage to utter a simple, “No, thank you, I’m busy,” or “Actually, I can’t, I’m doing something else that weekend”? – naturally acts as a catalyst for a spectacular falling out, which ends with a reality check all round and with life restored to a more sustainable and realistic normality: Life shaken up, love and loyalty tried and tested, so that the weak and arrogant are finally seen in their true colours and the young take their chance to be happy.

(To be continued)

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