This Charming Man - Interviews

Evening Herald, 22nd Jan 2008, Claire Coughlan

As one of Ireland’s most sparkling and entertaining women’s writers, domestic violence isn’t something you’d expect to find in one of Marian Keyes’ books, yet it’s the subject matter for her new novel, This Charming Man. Keyes’ last book, Anybody Out There?, dealt with bereavement with sensitivity and probity, yet with her typical humour, and fans can expect more of the same from this next book.
“The book is about domestic violence but it’s still hugely entertaining and the subject of domestic violence is handled with great carefulness,” explains Marian. “It was tricky for me because I am known, I hope, as a writer of comedies. There’s a lot of fun in it and, I hope, a lot for people to identify with. And even though the theme of domestic violence runs through the book, it doesn’t hit people over the head – it’s more complex.”
Marian did a lot of research for the novel, all of which was harrowing, she says.
“I got loads of information about it (for the book) and I found that people regard domestic violence as, and I hope this isn’t misconstrued, but they regard it as a working class problem,” she says tentatively. “And it’s not; it goes through all strata of society and not just Irish society but all societies. It’s no respecter of class or financial circumstances – you don’t have to be living in poverty for it to happen.
“And this is what Women’s Aid said to me, they said that abusive men don’t go around advertising the fact that they’re abusive. They’re clever and they’re charming – that’s why the book’s called This Charming Man.”
“It’s good that this issue is being covered in another genre, such as in a novel and it’s great that Marian’s doing it because it’ll help raise awareness,” says Margaret Martin, director of Women’s Aid in Ireland. “It is underreported because we do know that one third of people who’ve been abused by a partner never tell anyone. Of the people who do tell someone, it’s usually their friends and family that they tell, so it goes officially unreported.”
Marian found this cloak of silence to be omnipresent amongst victims.
“I spoke to women and what I found really upsetting was that every single one of them insisted on being anonymous because they were so frightened that he’d still come after them. Some of the stories that I heard, I actually found them hard to believe and I’m not saying that they were untrue, I’m saying that they were so appalling – you’d think: ‘how could anyone put up with that?’
“But it’s because they were so reduced in terms of their self esteem; they didn’t know any better – they were so devoid of a sense of self by the stage that he was putting a cigarette out on their hand that they didn’t know they could leave. So many men say to their partners: ‘if you leave me, I’ll kill you’ and the thing is: it really happens.”
A quarter of women who are abused first experience violence when they become pregnant, according to Women’s Aid. Marian says she certainly found this to be the case.
“Some of the women I spoke to had been professionals and things went wrong for them when they had a baby, the man was saying: ‘oh, you don’t have to work, you should be at home with the baby.’
“And when they gave up work, they found they were quite isolated – they found that suddenly they didn’t have anyone to confide in.”
I have to ask, is the book written out of personal experience at all?
“It wasn’t, no, and I would say if it had been because I don’t believe in writing about something and then being coy about whether it’s affected me. No, mercifully, despite all the other things that have happened to me, that is one where I’ve been really, really lucky and I haven’t had abusive relationships and I’m grateful for that,” Marian says firmly.
So, what inspired her to write about domestic violence, of all things, in that case?
“Four or five years ago I went to Ethiopia for Concern and I did a lot of swotting because I’m a Virgo swot,” she explains. “I came across a load of statistics and it just came across that the most oppressed or badly off in any situation are women and it was a scales falling from my eyes moment. The people who are denied a voice more than anybody are women. Show me the poorest man on earth and I’ll show you one person poorer and that’s his wife.
“I became really interested in things that pertain to women’s rights, or lack of them, like childcare and our attitudes to childbirth, but for some reason, with both the question of rape and domestic violence, it just made me very upset, because it seems to be so widespread, but secret.” Marian fans may remember a series of articles she wrote for Marie Claire magazine in the last year or two, one of which covered domestic violence.
“And once I became aware, I couldn’t ‘un-know’. One woman gets hit every second in the United States and for a long time, I thought that it couldn’t be true or that it was more complex than a man hitting a woman a clatter because he was angry. But it can’t be justified.”
And hopefully, more people will think that after they read what will undoubtedly be another bestseller from Ireland’s most popular novelist.