Marian Keyes is in bed. It is two o’clock in the afternoon, but she has just returned from a funeral and is cold. “It was a nice start,” she says to reassure herself that she’s okay to talk. She wears a lilac hoodie and flaunts a pastel pink manicure as she rearranges the pillows to get comfortable. Within minutes, it’s like the two of us are having tea and cookies under the duvets at her home in Dún Laoghaire, as she gives me a virtual tour of her bedroom.

So far, so Marian Keyes. Beloved by readers for her gossipy style and satisfying storylines, she was for many years dubbed the queen of the chick-lit, a phrase now as outdated as Daniel Cleaver’s chat lines in Bridget Jones’s diary. In fact, his novels have tackled heavy issues such as addiction (Rachel’s Holiday), bereavement (Anybody Out There), domestic violence (This Charming Man) and depression (The Mystery of Mercy Close), always with his levity. characteristic. Yet despite selling more than 35 million copies over the years, she’s all too often seen as a popular writer of pink-cover books (both are fine with her, thanks for asking).

This month, her 15th novel, Again, Rachel, will be published. It’s a sequel to Rachel’s Holiday, the novel that helped make her name in 1997. The 25th anniversary edition went straight to the bestseller charts: its fuchsia cover with flip-flops screaming unlike the new novel. -up navy blue jacket with a cartoon of a yoga mat and a puppy.

We find Rachel in her forties at the Cloisters Clinic where she was treated for cocaine addiction in the first novel, and where she is now chief counsellor; her only addiction is chic sneakers. She has a dog, a boyfriend called Quin who knows all the fancy restaurants, and a loving family. “It was my life now and it was a good one,” Rachel recalled.

The stage is therefore set for the return of her ex, Luke Costello (that of the too tight leather pants), which will make the hearts of readers of a certain age quiver. “OK, I did it for myself as much as anyone else,” Keyes admits. “It was nice writing to him again. He was very, very sexy in Rachel’s Holiday. That’s not to reveal that Rachel’s life is more than internet shopping and gardening.

“As a postmenopausal woman, I like to bang the drum for the idea that we don’t all fade at 37,” says Keyes. “I write about women having sex beyond their 40s, when we’re supposed to be closing up shop.”

Keyes had always resisted the idea of ​​writing a sequel because it was like “short-selling” people, and thought she was finally done with the Walshes. But she found herself attracted to Rachel.

“I think it must have been that connection to her as a drug addict,” Keyes says. After a suicide attempt when the writer was 30, her parents took her to a clinic in Ireland for alcoholism. “She’s a drug addict, I’m a drug addict.”

Like Rachel, Keyes, who is now 58, has since been sober, but the new novel “recognizes the vulnerability an addict lives with on a daily basis. Every day, it is possible that your life slips, goes out of normal and falls between the cracks again, ”she explains before clearing up. “I make it look very dark and it’s not.”

She enjoyed writing the group therapy sessions in both novels. “Having gone through rehab myself, it was one of the happiest times of my life in a weird way. to help each other. It was really beautiful. I wanted to bring that same camaraderie and humanity to the new book.

Keyes divides his life into before and after his recovery. “Once I went through rehab and admitted the game was over, things were possible for me: healthy relationships, a career, honest and genuine friendships.”

More Rachel by Marian Keyes.

In what looks like the outline of a Keyes novel, four months before she quit drinking, she wrote a short story and sent it to a publisher on a whim; the year after she was released from rehab, her first novel, Watermelon, was published, and she was married at age 32. (Her husband Tony Baines – “He’s adorable!” – handles all that comes with being an international bestselling author.)

One of the sadnesses of her “after” life is that they never had children, a sorrow that is poignantly expressed in Again, Rachel.

“As someone who wanted kids and didn’t have them, you’re being hounded by the ghosts of the kids you didn’t have. I don’t want this to sound scary; it’s the opposite of scary , you think about all that joy, pleasure, pride and love.

She gave up IVF “because I was afraid I wanted too much. I was about six or seven years into recovery, I suddenly had a career, I really liked Tony,” she explains. “That old Catholic thing. I felt like I was being told ‘Stop! You’ve been given a lot, don’t ask for more.'”

In her mid-40s, Keyes was overcome by a depression that lasted four years. Although she had been plagued by anxiety since she was a child, it was unlike anything she had experienced before. “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t write, I can’t read, I can’t talk to people,” she posted on her blog in 2010. And yet, she managed to complete The Mystery of Mercy Close, about Helen Walsh, the youngest of the sisters, whose suicide attempt mirrored that of Keyes.

Although he makes severe depression terrifyingly real, the book never loses its comic edge and is now his favorite of his novels. Even after going through “the worst dark times”, for a time she felt “a pang of jealousy” when she learned that someone had died. “I’m really not proud of that,” she said. “It took a long time for this kind of re-embracing of life to happen, but it happened.”

Since coming out of those “war years” in 2015, she generally feels “better than normal”. It made her “much more capable of a kind of pure joy”, she says, “more capable of loving”. She feels it’s important to recognize that “horrible things hurt you. They don’t make you better or wiser or stronger. Most of the time they get in the way of you a bit.

The eldest of five children, Keyes credits her talent for telling a story and making it funny to growing up in a big, noisy house, not unlike the Walshes. “Being a good storyteller was a thing in my family,” she says. “I think a plan was given to me very early on. You laugh at your misfortune. It’s something immensely Irish.

Everything a man writes automatically carries more weight, it’s the long and the short. What frustrates her more than the lack of critical acclaim is the “low-level misogyny” behind the snobbery. “There are so many women who are a little ashamed to read my books because they were told to,” she says. “On behalf of all women writers, women who write about life, relationships and family dynamics, I feel I have a duty to say, ‘We’re just as good, you know. You don’t have to be ashamed to read us. We are not “guilty pleasures”, we are simply pleasures.

Keyes rejoices in the success of fellow Irish novelist Sally Rooney. “The absolute thrill that there were people queuing outside bookstores around the world for the third novel by a young Irish Marxist and feminist writer. Who would have thought?”

Above all, she is delighted with the changes that have made her rise possible: “A writer from this fucking repressive country where women were not allowed to have opinions, where putting their heads above the parapet brought this incredible weight of judgment on you,” she said. “It makes me proud of Ireland.”

She rattles off a list of names – Naoise Dolan, Louise O’Neill, Nicole Flattery, Jan Carson, Lucy Caldwell – who have been cheered in Rooney’s wake. “She changed the landscape of young female writers in Ireland.”

In his own writing, Keyes sees Grown Ups (2020) as a turning point, not least because it was seriously scrutinized. “People stuck with me and kind of a gradual accretion of soft affection or respect developed,” she says. “I think something happened with this book, people thought, ‘OK, grand! She did that, all is well. We can love it. Twenty-five years after her first appearance on stage, Rachel Walsh is finally respectable.

  • Again, Rachel is published on February 17
  • Hotline: Samaritans 116 123

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