Last Chance Saloon - Extract


One

At the chrome-and-glass Camden restaurant the skinny hostess ran her purple nail down the book and muttered, "Casey, Casey, where've you got to? Here we are, table twelve. You're the --"

"First to arrive?" Katherine finished for her. She couldn't hide her disappointment because she'd forced herself, every fiber in her body resisting, to be five minutes late.

"Are you a Virgo?" Purple Nails swore by astrology.

At Katherine's nod, she went on, "It's your destiny to be pathologically punctual. Go with it."

A waiter called Darius, with dreadlocks in a Hepburnesque topknot, pointed Katherine in the direction of her table, where she crossed her legs and shook her layered bob back off her face, hoping this made her look poised and unconcerned. Then she pretended to study the menu, wished she smoked, and swore blind that the next time she'd try to be ten minutes late.

Maybe, as Tara regularly suggested, she should start going to Anal-Retentives Anonymous.

Seconds later Tara arrived, uncharacteristically on time, clattering across the bleached beech floor, her wheat-colored hair flying. She wore an asymmetrical dress that glowed with newness, sang money, and -- unfortunately -- bulged slightly. Her shoes looked great, though. "Sorry I'm not late," she apologized. "I know you like to have the moral high ground, but the roads and the traffic conspired against me."

"It can't be helped," Katherine said gravely "Just don't make a habit of it. Happy birthday."

"What's happy aboutit?" Tara asked ruefully. "How happy were you on your thirty-first birthday?"

"I booked ten sessions of nonsurgical face-lifting," Katherine admitted. "But don't worry, you don't look a day over thirty. Well, maybe a day..."

Darius bounced across to take Katherine's drink order. But when he saw Tara a look of alarm flickered across his face. Not her again, he thought, stoically preparing for it to be a late one.

"Veen-ho?" Tara asked Katherine. "Or the hard stuff?"

"Gin and tonic."

"Make it two. Right." Tara rubbed her hands together with glee. "Where's my coloring book and crayons?"

Tara and Katherine had been best friends since the age of four, and Tara had a healthy respect for tradition.

Katherine slid a colourful parcel across the table and Tara tore the paper off. "Aveda things!" she exclaimed, delighted.

"Aveda products are the thirty-something woman's coloring book and crayons," Katherine pointed out.

"Sometimes, though," Tara said pensively, "I kind of miss the coloring book and crayons."

"Don't worry," Katherine assured her. "My mother still buys them for you for every birthday."

Tara looked up in hope.

"In another dimension," Katherine said quickly

"You look fantastic." Tara lit a cigarette and wistfully checked out Katherine's claret Karen Millen trouser suit.

"So do you. I love your dress."

"My birthday present to myself. D'you know something?" Tara's face darkened. "I hate shops that use those slanty forward mirrors so you think the dress makes you look slender and willowy. Like a poor fool I always reckon it's because of the great cut, so it's worth spending the debt of a small South American country on." She paused to take a monumental drag from her cigarette. "Next thing you know, you're at home with a mirror that isn't slanty forward and you look like a pig in a frock."

"You don't look like a pig."

"I do. And they wouldn't give me a refund unless it had something wrong with it. I said it had plenty wrong with it, it made me look like a pig in a frock. They said that didn't count. It needed something like a broken zip per. But I might as well wear it seeing as I went up to my Visa limit to buy it."

"But you were already up to your Visa limit."

"No, no," Tara explained earnestly "I was only up to my official limit."

"Okay," Katherine said faintly.

Tara picked up the menu. "Oh, look," she said in anguish. "It's all so delicious here. Please, God, give me the strength not to order a starter. Although I'm so hungry I could eat a child's arse through the bars of a cot!"

"How's the no-forbidden-foods diet going?" Katherine asked, although she could have guessed the answer.

"Gone," exhaled Tara, looking ashamed.

"No harm done," Katherine consoled.

"Exactly." Tara was relieved. "What harm indeed. Thomas was raging, as you can imagine. But really! Imagine a diet that tells a glutton like me that nothing is forbidden. It's a recipe for disaster."

Katherine made murmury soothing noises, as she had every time over the past fifteen years when Tara had fallen off the food wagon. Katherine could eat exactly what she liked, precisely because she didn't want to. From her glossy exterior she looked like the kind of woman who never had struggles with anything. The cool gray eyes that looked out from underneath her smooth dark bangs were assured and appraising. She knew this. She practiced a lot when she was on her own.

Next to arrive was Fintan, whose progress across the restaurant floor was observed by the staff and most of the clientele. Tall, big, and handsome, he wore a bright purple suit with buttonholes punched all over both sleeves, through which his lime-green shirt winked and twinkled. A plane could have landed on his lapels. Discreet murmuring of "Who's he...?" "He must be an actor...?" "Or a model...?" rustled like autumn leaves, and the feel-good factor among the Friday-night diners experienced a marked surge. Truly, everyone though t, this is one stylish man. He spotted Tara and Katherine, who'd been watching him with indulgent amusement, and gave a huge smile. It was as if all the lights had been turned up.

"Gorgeous." Katherine nodded at his suit.

When Fintan had...

Synopsis


Best friends since the days when legwarmers were cool, Tara, Katherine, and Fintan have survived small-town ennui, big-city heartbreak, and endless giddy nights out on the town. But now that they've graduated to their slightly more serious thirties, only Fintan has what can honestly be called a "love life." With Tara struggling daily with her eternal diet -- and her dreadful, penny-pinching boyfriend -- and Katherine keeping her single existence as ordered as her drawer full of matching bra and panty sets, it seems they'll never locate the exit door out of the "last chance saloon."But it's always when you are least ready for change that fate insists on one. And when catastrophe inevitably follows crisis, the lives of three best friends are sure to change in unexpected ways...and not necessarily for the worse.

Reviews

Irish Tatler


Marian Keyes has done it again - she opens her bag of tricks and a wondrous assortment of characters pop out. Instantly recognisable, externally wry, dysfunctional and endearing - thinking the thoughts you are thinking. All bound up in the author's palpable enthusiasm for setting their scenes in an intelligent, entertaining style.

Welcome to a less than perfect world you want to be part of. Fintan, Tara and Katherine, whose bond has stretched from rural County Clare to cosmopolitan London and whose life patterns have changed little. Of course it's all about to change.

When the novel opens the characters think they are out for a birthday lunch, but in fact they have just come through the swing doors of the Last Chance Saloon - the doors only swing one way.

For the characters are all thirty-something and their hedonistic, thoughtless days are numbered. They face a hedonistic future where each day is numbered with the guilt that they have not yet grown up and become responsible. Katherine, the ice maiden, drives a powder blue Karmann Ghia and lives an existence so ordered even her chaos is compartmentalised. Fintan is gay, sick, losing weight and in love with Sandro, an Italian Pony bred with a Shetland - he's short but he's loyal to his love. Tara is fat, getting fatter, has not spent five minutes on her own since she turned 16 and realised that boyfriends stop you from being alone.

Lorcan is about to come into their lives. He has a shock of red hair, he is Godlike. One of them knew him before and he almost destroyed her. Read on.

Marian Keyes works her usual magic in her fourth book which deals in love, friendship, food (lots of it), sex (even more of that), heartbreak, loneliness, death - delivered to you with enduring laughter.

The dialogue could be stolen for stand-up. A weight obsessed woman who won't swallow after oral sex, a group of advertising executives who sit around discussing the merits of Geetex, a new tampon which men will want to buy by the time they're finished promoting it.

The tone is unashamedly mainstream without being formulaic. There is a terrific sense of freedom and lack of inhibition in the writer which allows the reader to read in the same fashion.

Marian Keyes has flashes of brilliance and all the hallmarks of durability. Her writing sparkles and the world is a better place for her books.

Publication: Irish Tatler

Library Journal


Dublin resident Keyes, author of the popular Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married and other novels, treats her audience to another fun read. Years ago, three friends from a small Irish town started new lives in London. Now in their early thirties and feeling as if they are in the "Last Chance Saloon" of relationships, they are finally growing up. Accountant Katherine is still recovering from a long-age broken heart and has completely sworn off men. Tara constantly struggles with her weight and lives with a man who treats her horribly. Their best male friend, Fintan, seems to be having the best luck: not only is he in a happy relationship with a man but he also has a great job as a fashion designer. When a serious illness afflicts Fintan, the three friends are forced to re-examine their lives thus far and make some big changes. Keyes draws readers in from the beginning, and a sassy closing twist clenches the story. Readers of her previous novels will agree that Keyes' prose is nicely progressing. Her best book yet, this is highly recommended for public libraries.

Interviews


Capital Questions



For best-selling novelist Marion Keyes, 34, her 11 years in London was a time of ups and downs that ended with a suicide attempt and recovery in a Dublin clinic. Marian now lives in Dublin with her husband. Here she talks about her first London job and her current passion for shoes.
What's your first memory of London?

Arriving very air early in the morning at Euston station. It was February 1986 and it was freezing. I remember feeling I was at the start of a big adventure.
Where's the worst place you've lived in the capital?

The first place I lived in was a squat in Hackney. My friend, Conor found it before I arrived. It was fabulous fun though a bit grim in retrospect. We had one arm chair and took turns to sit in it.
What was your first job here?

I waitressed at a place called the Video Cafe in Argyle Street which is no more. It was fabulous and awful at the same time. Most of the people who worked there were resting actors. They were beautiful and skinny with loads of attitude. I was wide-eyed and innocent so it was a very good introduction to London. The man who ran the cafe was very volatile - we all quaked whenever he walked in.
Do you shop at markets?

When I lived in Gospel Oak with my husband we'd go down to Camden most Sundays. They had all these fabulous mirrors that I used to covet, as well as gorgeous pottery and wonderful antique ecclesiastic furniture.
Which is your favourite food hall?

Fortnum and Mason's. It so English and charming. They have lovely hand-made chocolates and champagne truffles are delicious.
What are you most please to see when you return?

Russell and Bromley. The shoe shops in London are so amazing and there's nothing to compare in Ireland.
Where is good for a first date?

The Ivy is the most beautiful place. They're so nice to you.
Where do you eat out?

There were some good locals in Gospel Oak. I used to like the Fleet Tandoori. They stop giving me the menu eventually because I always ordered the same thing. The poor man who used to run the place made all sorts of specials and would be nearly in tears trying to persuade me to try them. I'd listen, say they sounded lovely and still ordered chicken tikka masala.
Which is your favourite hotel bar?

The one in the St George Hotel. The top floor has the most amazing view. It's a real revelation because you don't realise from outside that it's going to be so special.
What's the last tourist attraction you visited?

When I lived in London my sister came to stay and she made us go to Madam Tussaud's. Oh, the dreariness of it.
Where would you take newcomers to the city?

Maybe to Parliament Hill - there's such a great view from there - or Kensington High Street.
When did you last go to a museum?

Last spring I went to an exhibition of clothing through the ages at the V & A. They had loads of couture, fabulous suits and handbags. I really enjoyed it.
What's your favourite exhibit?

I love furniture modern stuff with lots of chrome and wood.
Which is your favourite tube station?

It's either Arnos Grove, Wood Green or Southgate. Their Thirties, they're deco, they have those wonderful round glass brick exteriors and they're really atmospheric.
What's the last conversation you had with the cabbie?

I was going to a restaurant. There was a doorman waiting outside and the cabbie said, quite seriously, 'Look, love, there's your boyfriend waiting for you, all dressed up.'
Who writes well on London?

Jane Green, Isabel Wolff, Martin Amis and the bloke who wrote the A-Z.
Where would you like to be bought a present from?

Space NK Apothecary. I love their Kiehl's and Aveda stuff.
Who will replace the Bridget Jones generation?

I've read a couple of pieces saying there isn't an upcoming generation in which men will far outnumber women. So it will be the male Bridget Jones-men who are lonely and have to try harder. Roll on the day is what I say.
How would you change London?

The only problem I have is with the size. It's too big. It would be lovely to introduced teletransporters.

Publication: Metro (UK) Journalist: Victoria Moore date: 11/11/1999

Queer cat among the pigeons


In Marian Keyes's new novel, the gay best friend has finally made it to Ireland, via American sitcoms and Bridget Jones, but true to the Irish, and to Keyes, this gay best friend has a lot more to say for himself than his two-dimensional heterosexualised predecessors.

A few chapters into the Last Chance Saloon, the latest novel about the lives and loves of a group of Irish thirtysomethings living in London from Marian Keyes, queer alarm bells start ringing. Somebody observes that the main gay character is losing weight. A couple of pages later he develops a bit of a cough. All the signals are there to suggest that even now, when the gay-equals-AIDS-clich? has been trotted out in every literary genre on the block, Ireland's premier post-Binchy popular fiction diva is about to light-heartedly canter down that very same road. But then it emerges that Fintan doesn't have AIDS after all, he has lymphatic cancer. The alarm bells get louder. Is Keyes going to kill off her gay hero and so let her heterosexual characters go on to live "normal", fulfilled lives, redeemed by the fact that they once knew a wonderful gay man who was taken away in the prime of his life - without the AIDS clich?? You know the way it goes - like is short, kill the Queer and let the Straights learn from it. For a long time it seems as if this is the case all tied up with a glossy pink bow, but then Keyes subverts the maxim once more, and provides a happy gay ending.

In fact, if you look beyond the bubblegum packaging and nice "n" easy prose, you'll find that Marian Keyes likes nothing more than to use her oeuvre for a spot of clich? destruction, and even though her gay characters may exhibit lots of established queer comedic little foibles, they come out as the most interesting homosexuals to grace the pages of popular fiction since the gay best friend became de rigueur. Yet, she doesn't forget who she is marketing to. The Last Chance Saloon, like its predecessors, is primarily written for a 20 to 30-something female audience, and the protagonists here are the usual messed-up women who must grow in the story arc and learn to love themselves. That some of them do so, and also become characters who are not defined by the men in their lives, is a testament to what Marian Keyes is trying to do with the genre. Nowhere else in the proliferation of titles that have followed the Bridget Jones phenomenon you will find a female character who ends up happy to be single on the final page.

Likewise, Fintan, her first gay character since the two-dimensional friend in Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, challenges the genre pre-conceptions.

"In a way he is the central character," says Keyes, "and he's the only one with a stable life", blasting two of the gay best friend rules immediately. Usually the queer body is used as a fuck-ed up mirror for the female lead, and he is always doomed to stay firmly in the background. Keyes isn't too enamoured with this "gay best friend" clich? either. "A lot of people my age have gay friends", she says, matter-of-factly. "It's no big deal. There are straight people and there are gay people and they are friends with each other."

Of course, central to the placing of Fintan as queer cat among the straight pigeons is his illness. There's nothing new in the way Keyes uses it as a pivotal learning process for her straight characters, but the book goes on to take the notion one step further and explore pre-conceived notions that are written in stone around gay men and serious illness.

"My primary purpose is to tell a story," Keyes enthuses, never losing sight of her audience, "but I did feel irritated with this prejudice around gay people and AIDS. If a gay man gets sick, people automatically assume it's AIDS. It's so short-sighted. Straight people get AIDS, and gay people get sick and it's AIDS. I did want to challenge that way of thinking, in a gentle way."

Gently it may be, but Keyes effectively rams her message home. Even Fintan's boy friend, who has recently lost a lover to AIDS, suffers under the assumption. Only Fintan, himself, dares to challenge the gay-equals-AIDS prejudice. Early on in the novel one of the female protagonists suggests that he might be positive. "Tara implies that Fintan has AIDS," Keyes takes the story up, "and he says to her 'have you? Have you had a test? Has your fella had a test?' that's the case. Even today, straight people might often think they are the immune."

Not your usual airport fiction fodder, then. While Keyes is at pains to point out her easy-reading tone, she's not one to shirk off when a challenging concept presents itself through her characters. "I always recognise that my readers are intelligent people, so I'm not going to feed them writing-by-numbers," she asserts, belying an agenda that goes beyond the purely marketable. Most of her readers certainly won't have been faced with the issues around AIDS and homophobia before, but they're guaranteed to lap it up and empathise in their droves. Perhaps that what called changing things from the inside out.

Publication: In Dublin Journalist: 10-11/1999