I think the last time I was this angry at the end of a book was when I finished The Nanny Diaries. (It just felt so incomplete!) This Charming Man contains Marian Keyes’ usual Irish humor, which I love, but the bulk of the book upset me deeply.
Told from the perspective of three women — Lola, Grace and Marnie — This Charming Man is about recently engaged politician and @sshole extraordinaire Paddy de Courcy. Lola recently dated Paddy, so recently that his engagement announcement to another woman came as quite a shock; Marnie dated him when she was a teenager; and Grace, Marnie’s twin sister, feels like she dated him via Marnie (twins are weird, eh?). Lola is devastated and starting to act a little too crazy, so her friends sentence her to a remote country cabin until she is emotionally ready to return to Dublin. There she encounters an interesting cast of characters, all of whom help get her back to a healthy emotional state: an unemployment agent who likes to cross-dress in his spare time, a Muslim bartender, a neighbor who also enjoys burning dresses, an elderly woman who owns a store but doesn’t sell anything, a sexy surfer dude and a French girl with a knack for Irish phrases. Meanwhile, back in “the big city”, Grace works for a hilariously unorganized newspaper and has an extraordinarily sarcastic view on the world. She wants Lola to tell her story about Paddy, but when Lola disappears Grace must look for her stories elsewhere.
Sounds pretty light and fluffy, yes? No. Here’s the upsetting stuff: When it’s time for Marnie’s story, you immediately become almost as depressed as she is. She despises life itself and is completely incapable of handling basic human relationships — work, husband, children, friends — and it turns out a severe alcohol addiction is to blame. Marnie is in complete denial about it, is incapable of stopping and causes physical harm to herself every time she drinks. And then — and then! — woven between Lola’s, Grace’s and Marnie’s stories are little snippets of a man physical abusing and raping a woman, but these snippets don’t name anyone specific. At first I was like, ‘Um, did they throw in the pages of some other book by accident?’ but it was no accident. Eventually it comes to light that the man is in fact Paddy de Courcy, and the abused women are Lola, Grace and Marnie. The descriptions of what he did to them are so appalling I had a hard time reading through them.
Eventually Grace spearheads a mission to get Paddy to admit to his crimes and step down from his political aspirations, and with the help of a female politician he has wronged in non-sexual ways, she succeeds. But, excuse me, the man deserved more than career humiliation; I know he is just a fictional character, but it were up to me he would have been shot in each kneecap, then each elbow, then each foot, then each hand, all while slowly having his “manhood” cut off and being raped himself. (Too harsh? Too graphic?) Paddy’s actions are no doubt to blame for Marnie’s alcoholism, and only on the very last pages of the book does she admit to being an alcoholic and finally seek professional help. Everything turns out all right for Lola and Grace, but I feel like each of their stories could have stood on their own as separate books. (In fact, I wonder if Marian Keyes started out writing only about Lola and then decided to add the others in later.)
I know I’ve been trying to challenge myself by reading outside my comfort zone, but I really didn’t expect this from a Marian Keyes book. I think I’ll stick to her Walsh family books.