The Other Side of the Story - Reviews


Evening Herald

-it's a great read, says VALERIE COX

NINE years ago, when Marian Keyes published her first novel, Water­melon, I interviewed her on local radio. Even then there was a sense of celebration - of the scribbler made good, the woman who was still a little dazed with her initial success. Her publish­ers, Poolbeg, added to the sense of celebration, sending reviewers a great big watermelon with her book.

This trick was to be repeated a year later when review copies of Lucy Sulli­ van is Getting Married were sent with tiny, perfectly-iced wedding cakes.

The engaging thing about the author is that she has been honest with her readers from the go.

There are no great mysteries, nothing to create a scandal about: Marian her­self admitted her problems with the bottle and used them to great effect in Rachel's Holiday.

However, The Other Side of the Story is a bit different. She borrows Shake­speare's successful device of a play within a play, offering the reader a novel (or two or three) within the main novel. And her heroine, Gemma, crosses the boundary of kinship when she writes about the disintegration of her own family and the problems cre­ated by her father walking out.

It has been said that Marian's novels are "girly chats" with a friend - and this is so true.

Keyes's fans will recall that Sushi for Beginners delved into the world of magazine publishing.

This latest work brutally exposes the world of the bestseller. How much of it is autobiographical, you wonder.

The novel kicks off when Gemma's wimpish dad leaves her mum after 30 or so years of marriage,

Gemma - not always willingly or happily - steps in and looks after her mum while she collapses under the weight of her desertion.

Gemma starts sending her friend Susan the details of the break-up. These emails form the core of her book after Susan spots their potential and sends them to a publisher.

Then there's the agent, JoJo, who takes us through the whole process. Actually, anyone who wants to set loose a novel on an unsuspecting public should read this novel carefully.

You will be shocked by the tactics employed to get a novel up and going as the publishing machine takes over.

We are so pleased when Nathan Frey, penniless and unremarkable, has his first book sold for over a million pounds sterling. We are thrilled when poverty-stricken Lily Wright pens Mimi's Remedies and it catapults into the bestsellers lists. We sympathise as the journalists and columnists take an interest in her life, describe her small flat as a squat and turn a minor mug­ging story into the main point of an interview.

There is a love-hate relationship between the author and the media (and Keyes is probably writing from experi­ence here).

Then there's television and the brutal truth that "only the good-looking authors get on telly. When an author is a dog, telly researchers won't book her. Sometimes the publishers try to keep her off the publicity trail. They tell the media she's a recluse." Keyes never tries to be clever. She just tells it like it is, using real people to tell their stories. And there isn't a gloss or a judgement.

We know that JoJo is having an affair with a married man and she feels guilty about it. We know that Lily pinched Gemma's fella, Anton, but she is adamant she is "not a seductress".

"To be honest, I'm the least fatale of femmes," she insists. Gemma, of course, has to take a large slice of the blame because she sent her then-friend to spy on Anton in the first place! But this gives us the two old enemies with the same publisher theme.

The novels within the novel grab the reader's attention, and Keyes, perhaps unintentionally, divulges quite a bit about her characters and how they come about. Lily indulges herself utterly when she sits down to create her protagonist, Mimi. "She was wise, kind, earthy and magical - a mix of several people: she had my mum's wis­dom, Dad's generosity, Dad's second wife Viv's warmth and Heather Graham's hair:"

Similarly, Gemma creates the Izzy and Will story as an idealised version of what she would like to happen.

Of course, there are rejections along the way. Is this how Keyes felt when the manuscripts landed with a thump on the hall floor? "That's my book, I always said," laments Lily.

And then the excitement of accep­tance: "I was out of my mind with the thrill of having got a publisher."

But Gemma is a one-book wonder, while Lily forges ahead - as Marian herself did. And her mum and dad?

Once the big fling is over, he goes home, "does the crossword and plays golf. She buys clothes and makes him guess the price. They watch murder mysteries and go for drives."

This seems to be the book where Marian sits back and analyses what has happened to her over the last decade. She examines the whirlwind of publica­tion, film rights and fame, as well as the sheer hunger to get published.

I think she hasn't forgotten her own beginnings, the insecurity of that first novel, the author-signing session where she feared nobody would turn up - all the memories are there.

The Other Side of the Story is a great big book - over 600 pages - so you won't read it overnight. But it's a joy!

Publication:Evening Herald Journalist:Valarie Cox


Helen Falconer is surprised by Marian Keyes's latest blockbuster, The Other Side of the Story

Just in time for a long, hot summer, here comes another chart-topping blockbuster from publishing goddess Marian Keyes. Let me reassure you that it is packed with sound writing, wit and common sense - not that anything I say will affect her sales (in fact, her novel's indignant side-swipe at snotty reviews in the "quality" press is far more likely to impact on ours). However, I must add that compared to her six previous books, I found this one in parts a trifle strange.

The Other Side of the Story is set largely in the publishing world, and recounts the parallel adventures of three women. Classic Keyes, though the structure is not as tight as one might wish - these central characters barely meet, with the result that the stories are not cunningly intertwined but seem merely glued together at the edges.

We begin in Dublin with Gemma, an event organiser in her early 30s, whose father has just jumped ship for a younger woman, and whose mother is therefore a hysterical disaster zone. Anton, the love of Gemma's life, dumped her a couple of years ago and is shacked up with her ex-best friend, Lily. Gemma can't forgive Lily for this, though Lily is super-sweet and certainly didn't steal Anton. Gemma passes the time by writing feel-good solutions to her life's sad story, and a friend thinks that her fantasies might be well worth pub- lishing...

Next, in London, there is Jojo, Lily's literary agent, a buxomly beautiful maker of mega-deals, mistress of witty one-liners and all-round fabulous person. That's the first peculiarity in the book - I know Keyes has a soft heart, but never before have I come across a novel in which the author depicts a literary agent as upright, worthy and deserving of every penny. Jojo is in love with her boss, but she is also in love with her job; and there is a choice to be made...

Lastly, also in London, there is Lily, live-in lover of Anton, mother of their baby Ema, and writer of a surprise bestseller about a white witch who settles in a small village - cue ecstatic readership and snotty broadsheet reviews. It is the character of Lily that I findmost strange. She is a self-centred drama queen masquerading as a sensitive flower, yet no one, least of all her creator, seems to see it. Lily is incapable of functioning without Anton waiting on her hand and foot. While the poor man organises their house purchase single-handed, she claims not to understand the word "vendor". She insists she is permanently racked with guilt over Gemma, but when there's a brief opportunity for Anton to assist Gemma's own literary career, she is not best pleased. In fact, she runs off to her mother and barely allows Anton access to their daughter.

Chapter after chapter, I remained convinced that Lily's true character must be rumbled in the end, and when her second book bombs and the bank repossesses her house I was mightily cheered and felt order had been restored. However, to my astonishment, she then writes another charming bestseller, the second book is shortlisted for the Orange prize and the devoted Anton, after much undeserved penance, is permitted to resume his role as chief cook and bottle-washer. Even Gemma would secretly like to be friends again.

Keyes writes interestingly in this novel about the atavistic need for feel-good endings, and expresses a reasonable view that female writers get patronised for work that if penned by a man would be dubbed sensitive. Certainly, I have seen books by male authors critically praised which, if they'd been written by a woman, would have been hurled into the chick-lit bin unread. Maybe it is a thwarted desire to win over the "serious" literary establishment that has driven Keyes to create such an un- Keyesian central character - humourless and devoid of common sense. It'll be interesting to monitor the critical reaction. But thank God for Gemma and Jojo, say I.

Publication:Evening Herald Date: 19 June, 2004 Journalist: Helen Falconer

Daily Telegraph

If chick-lit authors were supermarkets, there would be an awful lot of Asdas - I can even think of a couple of Lidls. But Marian Keyes is Fortnum's. She is Dean & Deluca. She is Fauchon. The rest of us can only gaze on with a mixture of adoration and envy: we are potted meats, she is caviar. And, treat of treats, The Other Side of the Story is her best book to date.

It's about three women. Lily Wright briefly becomes a successful author, having written a winsome Chocolat-like word-of-mouth success called "Mimi's Remedies", in which a wise stranger-woman comes to a village and makes everyone happy. Though Keyes's humour usually errs on the side of kindness, she is here slyly and knowingly funny about books, authors, literary agents, newspaper interviewers. The latter, as one of her characters notes - just before a photographer forces her to swing, monkey-like, from a tree while going "HA HA HA HA HA'- come in two formats: shoulder-padded and over-made-up, or curiously tramp-like.

Then there's Lily's American literary representative Jojo Harvey, a superagent of the ballbusting variety; and Lily's former friend Gemma Hogan. Gemma hates Lily for stealing her boyfriend, Anton. Lily is still - years and a baby later - consumed by guilt at having done so, and considers herself undeserving of happiness. So far, so formulaic: three women, sexy jobs, boy trouble, blah-di-blah. But there are no fluffy half-formed twentysomethings here, because Keyes's particular skill is to absolutely inhabit these characters, and to give them properly realised lives: in among the frocks and the boys and the sparkling jokes, she deftly addresses depression, anger, pain, guilt, ambition and the question of revenge, and does so with such unusual generosity and warm-heartedness that the minutiae of the lives of these three women become quite engrossing.

The insanely competitive Jojo sleeps with her boss and uses American police slang when under pressure, which really ought to make one dislike her - but it becomes quite hard to. Lily, who ought to be unbearably wet, isn't, thanks to the skill of her creator, and her story is properly moving. Gemma, who gibbers with jealousy when Lily's book is reviewed favourably in the Irish Times, has a recently abandoned, morbidly depressed mother with a martyr complex, and has to put her glamorous life on hold in order to move back home to look after her - these scenes are richly funny. Keyes, as befits someone who once set a jolly romp in a rehab centre, is excellent at rooting the comedy from apparently grim situations.

Gemma cheers herself up by e-mailing Mills & Boon-esque fantasies to a friend. Here she is imagining having escaped to some bleak, wild seascape and repelling the advances of the local farmer (cum film director, natch):

I'd have an ethereal fragile quality about me, but because I was so wounded I'd be rude to him in the village shop... He'd take to leaving two fresh eggs on my doorstep in the morning. I'd get back from my four-mile stomp along the cliffs to find the eggs, still warm from the hens of course, waiting for my breakfast... I'd make a delicious omelette with some wild parsley snipped from the garden... At some stage I'd end up in his kitchen where I'd see him feeding a tiny lamb from a baby's battle and my heart would begin its long overdue thaw.

This is basically the plot of dozens of po-faced middlebrow books for would-be, femrnes serieuses; and that Keyes should be able to parody it so precisely and dismissively while writing something entirely superior is an excellent joke in itself. I whooped my way through this book: it is far more tightly plotted and better paced than its predecessors, it has texture and form in spades, it had me in tears more than once and, very often, it had me barking with laughter.

Publication: Daily Telegraph Date: 5 June, 2004 Journalist: India Knight

USA Today

Three very dissimilar women tell 'Other Side of the Story'

Creating a novel that offers both froth and substance can be compared to being a barista. If you add too much milky foam, the weak product has no effect on the reader. And too much caffeine makes the reader hyper.

Best-selling U.K. novelist Marian Keyes has concocted a tasty literary latte in her latest novel, The Other Side of the Story.)Keyes writes intelligent and entertaining fiction that is too grown-up to be called chick lit. She knows that marriage is not the solution to every woman's
problems; the treacle that drips from the pens of writers like Danielle Steel is mercifully absent. Keyes does not tax the brain cells. For those seeking summer refreshment, she offers a satisfying libation. The Other Side of the Story features three very different women.
Former New Yorker Jojo Harvey has become a top literary agent in London. Oozing sexual and professional charisma, Jojo, with her auburn tresses and chest-level MX missiles, is a dead ringer for Jessica Rabbit. Jojo's brain is equally formidable. Rounding out the trio are two former best friends. Blond and ethereal, Lily Wright is a fragile, self-doubting writer represented by Jojo. Keyes does an excellent job conveying the mysterious alchemy of talent,
neuroses and magic that puts Lily at the top of the best-seller lists while more savvy writers languish.

The third woman is Gemma Hogan. Living in Dublin, she works as a successful events planner and nurses a grudge against Lily, to whom she entrusted her then-beau Anton when he moved to London. Anton and Lily fell in love at first sight. Gemma bitterly stews, and Lily neurotically marinates in guilt despite Anton's assertion that he never loved Gemma.

Keyes' best scenes reveal the traditional sexual and social mores that still exist to some degree in Ireland, where men rarely leave their wives and people accept family obligations.
Keyes portrays Jojo as an unstoppable force of nature: She belongs in the glamorous big city, battling it out with publishers. Lily is a fey, sensitive creature of unusual sweetness mixed with fears. She really needs only Anton and her child. Gemma, by far the least glitzy and the
most duty-bound, has time for friends and family. In the end, Keyes makes it clear: Power and success can be dazzling, but simple things often prove the most satisfying.

Publication: USA Today Date: Thurs 27 May, 2004 Journalist: Deirdre Donahue