Putting new spin on the struggling marriage narrative

Marian Keyes' latest offering is an absorbing and entertaining read.

Marian Keyes
Penguin Random House NZ

Reviewed by Caroline Hunter 

Marian Keyes brings her trademark easy-reading style and wry Irish humour to bear on her latest offering and 13th novel, The Break. Fans will not be disappointed as she is once again in good form putting a witty spin on the angst of a contemporary dilemma.

Lead character Amy has been trying to find constructive ways to coax her husband Hugh out of a lengthy depression following the death of first his father and then a friend. Nothing seems to be working until out of left field he asks for a six-month break from their marriage, children and life together to travel to Asia and be a free spirit. Amy hopes it’s just a whim, but when Hugh makes it crystal clear he intends to leave, she senses this may be the only way he will recover his wellbeing. But at what cost to her and their family?

Keyes is able to convey Amy’s subsequent suffering, and the effect of Hugh’s abandonment on their children, without resorting to melodrama or sentimentality, and there is plenty of scope for humour, especially given the vibrancy of the supporting characters.

Amy’s parents and siblings have some delightful cameos, not least when her mother becomes a style "vlogging" sensation who captures the attention of the nation and rides a brief but dazzling wave of fame and popularity.

Amy’s job as a PR consultant offers up some diverting scenarios and, like the family sub-plots, helps to flesh out the narrative so it is not relying solely on the marriage-under-threat story arc.

I enjoyed the peek Keyes gives into the modern PR game, a tongue-in-cheek assessment that exposes its machinations, especially the tactics employed to rehabilitate disgraced celebrities.

She pokes gentle fun at all sorts of things, and people, and there are up-to-the-minute references all through this novel that prompt a knowing smile, but at its heart it is an affecting love story that doesn’t follow a well-worn path.

The fact that Keyes’ prose seems effortless is evidence of what a good writer she is. The Break may not be high literature, but it is absorbing, entertaining and smarter than you think.

- Caroline Hunter is an ODT subeditor.

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