Talking Love and Longing with Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes’s “The Break”. Image sourced from Marian Keyes’s page. 

Marian Keyes is a bestselling Irish novelist — the prolific author of sixteen books of fiction, well regarded for titles like Getting Married, Rachel’s Holiday, and Last Chance Saloon. In her latest novel, The Break, Keyes continues to build on past themes, exploring relationships from female perspectives, and tackling difficult topics with a characteristic sense of humour and wit.

Amy’s husband Hugh has decided he needs some time off from their marriage — no, it’s not a divorce, but a break. Hugh will travel Southeast Asia while Amy remains at home with the kids, working her PR job and sorting through understandably muddled emotions. Amy has her own desires, feelings that tempt her to stray from her commitment to Hugh. Keyes works through a series of questions. Is Hugh a bad guy? Is Amy guilty of emotional unfaithfulness? Is their relationship built to last? She’s not quick to jump to conclusions. Instead her characters learn to accept messiness and to simply find comfort in companionship.

“I used to think the line dividing sane people from insane people was entirely black or white – sane or insane – with no grey area.,” thinks Amy, “but suddenly I see now that the grey area is enormous. It spreads far and wide and into every part of life.”

Last month, I had the opportunity to ask Marian some questions about the book. Take a look at our conversation for insights into characters and thoughts on what makes or breaks a satisfying relationship.

Rachel Gerry: Your style of writing is truly funny; Amy is full of one-liners and witty observations. What is the value of presenting serious content in a lighthearted manner?

Marian Keyes: Hello and thank you! I always write about issues that impact the lives of women and they’re often serious things. Using humour is a trick to keep the reader reading despite the subject matter being uncomfortable or challenging. I think it’s probably a way to also keep me writing. However, I’m very careful to never use humour to undermine a serious subject.

R: Social media plays a significant role in this novel. Facebook helps Amy to keep an eye on Hugh when he is away and to monitor peoples’ reactions when he returns. Do you believe that platforms like Facebook have a negative impact on modern day relationships?

MK: I’m not really on Facebook for the very reason that I find it unsettling and sometimes actually upsetting. Seeing other people out ‘Living their best life’ and being on amazing holidays etc. makes me feel like my own existence is pretty pathetic. I guess I see how good it can be in staying in touch with loved ones who live far away but by presenting an idealized picture of other lives, Facebook can erode the value we put on our own less-than-perfect relationships.

R: Amy’s affair with journalist, Josh Rowan, is strictly emotional before it becomes physical. Is there an important difference between these forms of infidelity?

MK: I don’t think I’d be too happy if my husband was emotionally infatuated with another women. But I think I’d be far more distraught if it was physical. Up to a point I think flirtations are okay, I mean we’re all human. But in Amy’s case, it was a bit more than that, long before it got physical.

R: At times, the children seem to have it more together than the parents. “We’ve been chill about this,” reminds Amy’s daughter, Kiara. Where do they derive their strength and maturity?

MK: Kiara was very much inspired by my beloved niece Ema, who is amazing. She’s an old soul even though she’s only 17. Also, I think modern kids have been given an education in emotional intelligence that I never got. They have the language to express how they feel, they have labels to hang their emotions on. Schools are so pro-active in trying to prevent mental health issues that it’s made a difference to how teens view the world. As a caveat though, I should stress that while they can be wise about other people, they still find their own feelings confusing and sometimes overwhelming.

R: Many chapters begin with the announcement of the weekday, often a Monday. What does this say about Amy’s routine? Her feelings towards it?

MK: It’s predictable, it’s tough and there aren’t that many opportunities for fun. Like, so many people, poor Amy has a lot on her plate.

R: “I feel like I need to hurt you,” says Amy when Hugh returns. Is it important to feel even in a relationship?

MK: I’m sorry I’m not sure I understand the question. But I totally understand Amy wanting to hurt Hugh because he’s hurt her so much. I think it’s a natural response.

R: Amy realizes that no relationship is black and white. “Life is all about the grey”. When you began to write this book, were you aware of its ending? Or were you unsure of how to navigate through “the grey”?

MK: I had NO idea how it was going to end. It was only through the writing of this novel that I realised just how much of life is ‘grey’. Every relationship is nuanced and now I feel that no-one has any right to comment on another person’s relationship: the people who are living it are the only ones who truly understand its unique complexity. So yes, I was very uncertain about navigating the nuances. All I knew was that there were no goodies and no baddies, just flawed humans trying to do their best.

R: What do you believe is most important quality in a long-term relationship?

MK: Tricky one. I was going to say Kindness because it’s what I look for in everyone. But I guess for a longterm relationship to survive, it means the 2 people have to learn to forgive each other for their fallibility. Holding each other to impossibly high standards is going to fail. From time to time, even when we love someone, we’re all going to make mistakes, get things wrong, be thoughtless, selfish, foolish. To recognise that your partner is just a flawed human being, just like you, instead of a perfect saviour, can be disappointing but it also provides a realistic view of things from which to work.

R: (With reference to the above.) Do you think that your characters ever find it?

MK: Absolutely!

Thank you very much, these were great questions

Marian Keyes’s “The Break” was published earlier this year by Penguin and is now available online and in store. Find out more about the author here.

Best Movies of 2017

The requisite best movie of the year goes to these four films at Novella because we like them and we think everyone else should too. It’s the raw confidence in our ability to discern shit from shinola that carry this illustrious list across the wavelengths straight onto your screen. Nothing else.

Disclaimer: these movies may very well change your life, but not sure if for better or worse.

The Beguiled

Set at a small girl’s schools in Virginia, The Beguiled offers up a dark and intensely female perspective of the American Civil War. When a student discovers a wounded Yankee soldier on school grounds, Mrs. Farnsworth, head mistress, agrees to take him in.  At first, the women are wary of his enemy status, but soon become beguiled by his charm and good looks; his very masculinity is enough to allure.  Once they accept the soldier into their lives, the household dynamic grows increasingly tense; jealously, suspicion and, ultimately, fear rule the space.  The Beguiled is a variation on a theme, building upon Coppola’s films, like Lost in Translation or Marie Antoinette, that explore the psychological and emotional experiences of women in isolation. Winner of Best Director at Cannes, Coppola’s latest is not to be missed. — RachelIntern

Florence Pugh plays the murderous and mischievous Katherine Lester in this loose adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. In William Oldroyd’s imagination, instead of a Russian estate, rural England in the 19th-century; a colder and lonelier lady of a faraway estate than even Shakespeare’s haunting and haunted Lady Macbeth. The plot is simple: Katherine is married/given to Boris, who is by all accounts a brute, by Boris’s father, Alexander, whose banal and viscid shittiness makes his son look like a charmer. Katherine is not happy. As unhappy marriages on films go, this one’s ills and death are not sickening in their own ways: there’s the requisite affair, fits of violence, and shorter periods of remorse. What truly distinguishes Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is Pugh’s brilliant and eerie performance. It’s difficult to either dislike or like Katherine, whose brutality matches that of her captors; she holds us captive, witnesses and accomplices to her violence. — Hoon, Managing Editor

For some, Girls Trip might seem like an unusual pick for a Best Movie pick but comedian and breakout star Tiffany Haddish performance alone is reason enough to understand why this movie made the list. There have been plenty of movies based on what happens when friends go on vacation. The only difference is this ensemble comedy actually delivers the laughs. The chemistry between the four women allows for cathartic dose of female-drive silliness and provide us with many hilarious moments. We all could use a good laugh after surviving this crazy year.

After the release of the unforgettable Tangerine in 2015, I knew that writer/director Sean Baker was one to watch for. His storytelling style came across as honest and poignant, something he maintains in this year’s release, The Florida Project. The story follows six-year-old Moonee and her mother Halley living day-to-day in a budget motel just outside of Disney World. Baker returns here with a wonderfully raw and real script, lived out flawlessly by breakout stars Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinai as the daughter and mother, respectively. I had put this article on my Fall Movie Preview list, and I’m so glad I did. Unlike many other films exploring the state of poverty in America, this one does so without a lick of condescension or hand-wringing. It brings genuine emotion, hope and compelling characters to the table, while drawing attention to serious ongoing economic issues. See this one. I mean it. — Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Everyday Icon — Saucony Originals

The ever-polarizing sneaker trend has been wondrous in its staying power.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen front-row-fashion plates showing up in their freshest kicks. It is the best example of mixing highs and lows: a two-piece Chanel suit with a running shoe; a vintage Balenciaga dress with a pair of well worn sneakers.

Shadow Original CL Polka Dot, Saucony Originals

It’s no wonder why this is such a tenacious trend. We’re busy. We need to sprint to get from point A, to B, to C. Comfortable footwear is more necessity than choice. And let the naysayers be — the vanguard is for the light footed, not the irresolute.

We need to be comfortable, but we want to look good. And if there is ever a need to look good, it’s while breaking rules.

“Know the rules well, so that you can break them effectively.” — Dalai Lama. “Break the Rules” Saucony Originals.

Which is why we teamed up with Saucony, the iconic shoe brand, to model some of their latest kicks. Here in Toronto, we’re passionate about our arch support and matching your shoes to your overall look. We don’t want our style mug shots to look amiss — we want them to look as ungodly and beautiful as any proper rule breaking should look.

Grid 9000 HT Jersey, Saucony Originals

Visit Saucony Originals for details regarding size and fit. You can order online here. 

Best TV of 2017

Television keeps on getting better somehow. Or it seems to be getting better. Or, at the very least, we talk about it a lot more than we used to, which may very well be a sign of either true cultural ascension of HBO and Netflix or general increase in lazy soma-taking viewership. Or both. Or not. Who knows? Your friends probably have a list of shows that you must check out, and they’ll stuff your ears full with the genial selfless joyousness of stuffing a Christmas stocking till you either watch or suffer the fate of an unfriend. Nobody wants to be an unfriend.

That’s depressing. But there’re too many best television list out there and we had to try to switch the game up a bit. Here’s our list of what you must check out, because they were the absolute best this year, and we are sure you’ll love them. But unlike your friends, we’ll still be here for you even if you don’t watch them.

aka Wyatt Cenac

Wyatt Cenac is the Viceroy, Kings County’s sentry, in aka Wyatt Cenac, the comic’s very own web series on Topic, a “story telling studio”. The Viceroy battles daily crime, confronts bad parenting, stands up for city regulations, busts a mustard shop (Viceroy, aka Wyatt Cenac: “I honestly don’t understand why anyone would want this much mustard, no offense.”), among other things. Though it only has 6 episodes, aka Wyatt Cenac deals more honestly with race, gentrification, and mundane inequities of life in a big city than any other show out there (that I know of). Cenac’s is a welcome respite from the onslaught of mediocrity that’s risen to the top like congealed chicken fat in a sad bowl of ramen in Bushwick in December. That sentence is an example of the kinds of crime Viceroy/Cenac battles, not that it’s necessarily untrue. Watch it and spread the love. (Do web series count as television?) — Hoon, managing editor

Image source.

American Gods

Full disclosure: I watched the television series American Gods, but I’ve not read Neil Gaiman’s book. In the nature of complete disclosure, I half started watching the show based on the draw of Ricky Whittle alone. However, once I started watching, I was, as they say, hooked. The show is weird. It’s intense, it’s violent, it’s confusing, and it’s incredible. The premise makes it an interesting watch now, at a time when secularism runs rampant and the relevance and purposes religion are being constantly questioned. On the outside, it’s a flashy series full of action and sex, which is great on its own, but the themes presented and examined within the show make it so much more. — Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Master of None

The second, and final, season of Master of None was released on Netflix this May and, already, I am mourning its absence. Aziz Ansari did something original here. He stepped away from the script — from scrupulously monitored plot developments and character arcs — to explore some serious issues (always with a comedic twist). Episode two, ‘Religion,’ follows Dev’s experience growing up in a Muslim family. Episode six, ‘New York Stories,’ is an artistic take on the intersecting lives of strangers; part of the episode is silent, taken from the perspective of a deaf character. Episode six, ‘Thanksgiving,’ follows Dev’s friend Denise as she comes out to her family. All of this relevant social commentary and a satisfying romantic arc, what more could you ask for? — Rachel Gerry, Intern

Big Little Lies

HBO’s miniseries Big Little Lies starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Zoe Kravitz is definitely one of my favourite tv shows of the year. Having never read the book by Liane Moriarty, I had no idea what to expect. The dark comedy is set in Monterey, California. Secrets, deception, rivalries, and eventually murder had me hooked each week and trying to figure out what was going to happen next. — Drew Brown, Editor-in-Chief 

 

Holiday Playlist Suggestions to Make Sure Your Party Doesn’t Totally Suck

The Holidays are stressful. Did you get the right presents for your extended family and all their annoying children? Will Diana from Accounting like the scarf you got her for Secret Santa? Is your new boo going to bail before your family Christmas party even though they promised they’re coming? We hear you, and we understand.

If it’s your turn to DJ the office holiday party, or if you are deciding to throw a festive bash, you’ve come to the right place. While you stress about decorations, drinks, and food, we’ve got your back with some playlist suggestions to keep you Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.

Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You

I couldn’t start off this list without putting the Queen of Christmas herself at the top. I’ve heard a rumour that Mariah Carey disappears for most of the year until we reach the Holidays, when she emerges stronger than ever, whistle tones and all.

The Jackson 5 – Christmas Album

Add a little Motown into your playlist with The Jackson 5 holiday album. This album plays all the classics that we know and love with flair.

Ariana Grande – Christmas & Chill Album

Queen of pop, Ariana Grande, brings us perhaps the most lit Christmas album ever. This album is so good that you can listen to it all year round but it will especially have your party guests throwing it back on the dance floor during the holidays.

*NSYNC – Home For Christmas

Let’s take it back to the ’90s. If you miss JT’s ramen noodle looking hair as much as I do, then you’re going to want to revisit *NSYNC’S Home For Christmas album. This album is certified platinum and will have everybody up on their feet.

TLC – Sleigh Ride

There’s nothing quite like ’90s Christmas R&B. TLC is iconic and of course we are going to do all we can to include it in this list. This tune is an underrated Christmas classic.

Sia – Everyday Is Christmas

Sia has released her first Christmas album and it shouldn’t go unnoticed. This album includes some fun, up-tempo songs, and a few savoury ballads that will be the perfect background noise.

 

Destiny’s Child – 8 Days of Christmas

I do whatever I can to include Destiny’s Child into many areas of my life. This throwback album will be the perfect start to your Christmas season.

RUN-DMC – Christmas In Hollis

This song is a Christmas classic. It would be impossible to create a holiday party playlist without including RUN-DMC.

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