Anybody Out There - Reviews
HeatWe think we'll go into mourning when Marian runs out of Walsh sisters. First, there was Claire, then there was Rachel, after that came Maggie, and now we meet Anna, leaving only bonkers Helen. Helen does feature
A lot in this book, providing the laughs where Anna brings (mostly) the tears. Without giving too much away, let us explain: Anna is a physical and mental wreck. She's left New York behind and is seeking solace with her mad family in Dublin. But she's desperate to return to Manhattan in search of a husband who seems to have disappeared. The words hilarious and heartbreaking are bandied around a lot in reviews, but never have they been more apt than when used to describe Marian Keyes' novels. It takes real talent to make a reader laugh and cry, but Marian's a genius at tapping into the two emotions, and you will do both, while the story will stay with you long after you've read the last page. *****
Publication:Heat Date: March 2006
Irish Independent Heavy and light – the magic of Marian K.
At first glance, Marian Keyes' seventh novel looks right at home in he shelf of carnival covers marked `chicklit'. It has a boldly-coloured, girly image on the front, a perky-sounding title and a breezy blurb on the back of the book, promising a bit of a whodunit set among the stiletto-shaped skyscrapers of New York:
But any reader expecting a giddy gigglefest with lots of sex and shopping and plots involving men behaving badly, has picked the wrong chick. Marian Keyes can do froth with the best of them, but her silver linings often come with a dark cloud attached. Since her first novel, Watermelon, was published in 1995 she has sold more than 15 million books which frequently tackle subjects like depression and serious illness.
And Anyone Out There? continues Keyes' practice of serving up a serious subject with a large dollop of humour. The story opens with Anna Walsh recuperating from some sort of bad accident - we don't find out what happened to her until almost a third of the way into the book. She's flown back to Dublin to recover; leaving behind her high-flying life in New York - aglamorous job in beauty PR, and Aidan, her handsome husband of a year who has gone missing.
Anna's family are a rambunctious bunch; she has four sisters, the youngest of whom, Helen, is an enthusiastic but somewhat inept private investigator, and an eccentric and sometimes inept mother. There are two storylines; the main plot revolves around Anna, and her struggle to come to terms with her earth-shattering loss; the second sub-plot involves Helen and her increasingly dangerous entanglement with Dublin's top criminal who hires her to spy on his wife.
Anna is an extremely likeable character who, even while in the deepest trough of bewilderment and hurt, manages to hold on to her wry and sometimes sardonic sense of humour which serves both as a defence mechanism and crucial survival tool.
While at home in Dublin recovering, Anna is nicknamed `Frankenstein' by a gang of neighbourhood urchins. "It had upset me the first time they'd said it. Especially when they offered me money to lift my bandages and show them my cuts. It was like being asked to lift my t-shirt and show them my knockers, only worse."
Keyes writes with enormous compassion; she understands that sometimes bad things happen to good people for no reason at all, and that life is a messy and unpredictable business. She tells the story of Anna's grief in a way that is moving but never morbid, and sympathetic without being maudlin.
By comparison; the sub-plot of Helen's jolly japes in the criminal underworld is a little silly and a bit pointless. It almost seems as if Keyes doesn't trust her own ability to keep her readers with her throughout the more profound plot; without adding a helping of standard chick-lit carry on to keep them happy.
But they will stay with her, for Keyes can blend heavy and light together in a style that's smart, sassy and thoroughly absorbing. She really doesn't need to hide behind the frilly frocks of chick lit anymore.
Lise Hand writes the daily diary Lise At Large for the Irish Independent
Publication:Irish Independent Date: March 2006
Irish Times Chick-lit is a derogatory label, sometimes used by those who believe that a work of women's "commercial" fiction is little more than a style statement on a par with a new lipstick. Literature, according to this argument, must be difficult, dark and dour. Literary novels must have sad or ambiguous endings, while commercial novels should have redemptive, upbeat ones.
Marian Keyes has wisely disregarded the rules and followed her own voice. Her eighth novel, Anybody Out There?, is her best work yet, showing Keyes as a virtuoso who can deftly mix dark and light, tragic and comic in a way that only a handful of writers can. Roddy Doyle springs to mind as another Irish novelist who, like Keyes, uses laughter to erode the reader's defences on the journey into dark territory, thus making the underlying tragedy of the story seem all the more real.
A seasoned writer, Keyes's latest work reads easily, yet her complex balance of tone and character is actually extremely difficult to achieve.
And her choice of theme in Anybody Out There? - bereavement and the recovery process - is a challenging one which in conventional hands wouldn't be humourous. Keyes's unique talent is to inspire laughter and tears, allowing opposite emotions to mix just as they do in real life. As at a good funeral, laughter pierces the grief, without diminishing it. That's the balance Keyes strikes in her seemingly effortless first-person narrative.
Anybody Out There? is the fourth in Keyes's series about the five Walsh sisters and their matriarch, Mammy Walsh. In Watermelon, Claire was ultimately liberated through her husband's cruel act of abandonment, in Rachel's Holiday, Rachel was emotionally disemboweled by rehab and in Angels, Maggie - the "white sheep" of the family - saw her perfectly controlled life combust.
Each of these is a "recovery" novel, as the sisters face the challenges of self-transformation wrought by life-changing loss. Anybody Out There? is in some ways a companion book to Rachel's Holiday, giving us the wisdom that Rachel has gained a decade later, but through Anna's experience. There are parallels between grieving the loss of the ego, through addiction, and grieving the loss of a lover, which Keyes intelligently highlights without being heavy-handed. This theme is first signalled when Anna's journey begins with the spectre of addiction hanging over her, as she lies in Mammy Walsh's Good Front Room, resisting the temptation to smother her grief with the pharmaceuticals Mammy Walsh is doling out.
We aren't told how Anna came to be lying battered and broken on Mammy's sofa bed, only that something terrible has happened involving Aidan, the man she fell in love with in New York. We know that Anna feels to blame , and that Aidan's name is never uttered by Mammy Walsh. Is he a wife-beater? A drug dealer? Anna's mother and the fifth sister, Helen, a freelance detective who hides in hedges spying on unfaithful spouses, are too absorbed in their own drama to ask the pertinent questions. A sign of Keyes's artistry is that Aidan remains elusive for nearly 150 pages, so that the circumstances of Anna's hurt sink in slowly, making the eventual revelation of Aidan's fate all the more heart-breaking.
As Anna struggles with the physical and spiritual pain of "mourning sickness", she heads back to New York - where Rachel, now an addiction counsellor, is about to marry the most attractive man alive - and resumes her career as a PR for "Candy Girl", a line of edgy, urban cosmetics. Keyes's cutting satire of a business that offers women emotional sustenence through make-up and skincare, makes the case that the beauty industry belittles female emotion. The contrast between the superficiality of the beauty business and the profound process of grieving that Anna must privately endure accentuates her alienation.
If Keyes were following the conventional rules, a character like Anna, with her bizarre dress sense and wacky career, would not be allowed to have something truly awful happen to her and she certainly wouldn't travel as deeply as she does into the dark - gaining insight that will stay with the reader long afterwards.
Kate Holmquist, Irish Times
Publication:Irish Times Date: March 2006
Library Journal Keyes, Marian. Anybody Out There? Morrow. May 2006. c.464p. ISBN 0-06-073130-3 [ISBN 978-0-06-073130-4]. $24.95.
The lovable Walsh family (Angels; Watermelon; Rachel's Holiday) is back in Keyes's newest endeavor, this time with Anna at center stage when she suffers serious injuries in a Manhattan taxi accident and ends up recuperating at home with her parents in Dublin, Ireland. But Anna has more to worry about: the escapades of her sister, Helen, a private eye working for Irish gangsters; her best friend and her sorry romances; her sister Rachel's upcoming nuptials; and her mother's obsession with a dog that is being trained to poop next to the mailbox. To boot, her husband, Aidan, back in New York, is not answering her emails and seems to have become a rather shadowy character. When Anna returns to Manhattan, her physical wounds finally healed up, life takes some shocking turns. Keyes has once again penned an intelligently written novel that is as warmly funny as her previous books but is ultimately much more heartbreaking. Recommended for all fiction collections.-Stacy Alesi, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., Boca Raton, FL
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Publication:Library Jounal Date:15 February2006
Marie Claire Marie Claire's esteemed columnist's bestsellers always have a tough subject at their heart, wrapped in the light-hearted, sure-footed comedy her readers love her for, and this latest is no exception. When we meet Anna, she is staying with her parents in suburban Dublin, recovering from some unspecified injuries. Anna's recent past as a glamorous PR girl in Manhattan slowly emerges, and with shock, we realise what has happened to shatter her life. To tell more would be to ruin the masterful way Keyes manages the revelation. All you need to know is that the jokes are as good as ever, her large cast of Irish and American characters fizz and crackle off the page, and in Anna, she gives us a heroine who could easily have been pitiful, but is never less than sympathetic. High-quality entertainment which builds to a bitter-sweet story with real emotional reach.
Publication:Marie Claire Date: March 2006
Telegraph Anna Walsh has left her cosy, cloying Dublin family to make it as a PR in New York. Everything goes her way. She lands a high-pressure job for a leading cosmetics firm and falls in love with Aidan, a handsome Boston Catholic. They agree to marry even though Anna suspects that Aidan is still half in love with his childhood sweetheart. The story takes an unexpected turn when Anna suffers horrific injuries in a mysterious car crash and returns to Dublin to recover.
What began as a frothy satirical romance turns into a profound story of abandonment and loss. Marian Keyes's great strength is her ability to handle the tragic and the comic with the same unforced ease. Her depiction of the tense, vicious world of public relations is brilliantly researched and blisteringly funny. She also ventures into the unusual realm of naff spiritualists and Pentecostal churches as Anna tries to mend her broken heart.
This is odd territory for popular fiction but Keyes approaches it with her characteristic generosity and humour. Anybody Out There? is a rare blend of genres, a richly enjoyable satire and an inspirational tale of one woman's triumph over despair.
Publication:Telegraph Date:Lloyd Evans, 21st May 06