“This Charming Man” by Marian Keyes

I may have said this before – okay, so you’d have to be entirely new to my blogs not to know – that I really love Marian Keyes’ books. It’s the same with any author we love: we read their books to shreds, and each time, uncover new wisdoms and ideas that strengthen our own lives. Why else would we read them?

I first read “This Charming Man” soon after it was first published in 2008 – I was in the early stages of serial reading: find the latest, read it, and wait impatiently for the next book to be written and published. I’ve done that with all the authors I love. Elizabeth George, Dick Francis, James Herriot, Peanuts, Tintin…

There is a seam of real-life tragedy running through Marian’s books, often to do with alcoholism and co-dependency, and this book pulls no punches. Telling the stories of four women, Lola, Grace, Marnie and Alicia – and assorted friends, lovers and colleagues – and their entanglements with a certain Paddy de Courcy – if you google him, he will come up, though he doesn’t yet have his own Wiki entry – it’s a gripping and intricately woven story about abuse between couples and how to survive it.

Though the overall narrative has domestic abuse as its main focus, it is also, and very tellingly, about the lies that vulnerable people indulge in to keep themselves trapped: hiding from the truth by being stuck in the past, constantly rehearsing old wrongs, blaming others and refusing to see what might have changed, fielding the fear of change by swamping oneself in self-pity.

I’ve been there and done all that and more. Self-harm comes in many guises, not just the obvious physical signs but also in the shying away from life, the refusal to engage with real people, in keeping oneself isolated and alone so that “I can never be hurt again”, and in refusing to acknowledge that our refusal to engage with the world – and with all the wonderful people in it – is what hurts us most.

So read this book, please, if you want to learn from the example of a master story-teller. But once we have read the book and digested some of the lessons – it’s a big book and might take a while – we owe it to ourselves to go out and live. Not to just get by in life, by reading books.

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