The Brightest Star in the Sky

Marian Keyes has the most uncanny ability to turn truly upsetting situations into laugh-out-loud, feel-good stories. Those Irish folks, eh?

The Brightest Star in the Sky follows several people who live in the same apartment building — or “flat”, as they say — in Dublin. Matt and Maeve are a slightly frumpy, happily married couple; Katie is a 40-year-old PR executive; Lydia is a fiery 26-year-old taxi driver who lives with two Polish guys — or “blokes”, as they say — who hate her and whom she hates in return; and Jemima is an elderly do-gooder by day, fortune-teller by night. Things get a little complicated at 66 Star Street when past and present love interests come into the picture.

Katie is dating Connall, a lifelong bachelor who tears apart companies for a living (think Richard Gere in Pretty Woman). Connall is constantly letting Katie down and not showing up for important events, so eventually she’s had enough and tells him they’re through. Lydia is casually dating Gilbert, a fellow taxi driver, but then she accidentally starts having wildly passionate sex with one of her Polish flatmates. (This does not change the fact that they hate each other.) Connall starts pursuing Lydia because Katie advises him to go after someone younger who will put up with his crap, and, to her chagrin, he listens. Then, as if things at 66 Star Street aren’t complicated enough, Jemima’s foster son Fionn comes for a visit and his movie star good looks make Katie forget about Connall entirely.

The real story, though, is Matt and Maeve. At first they seem like a perfect couple, but some odd things about their relationship start to surface: they watch the same TV show while eating the same snacks every single night, they sleep with multiple layers of clothing on, Maeve showers in her bathing suit and they both take antidepressants every morning. Maeve gets inexplicably upset at the idea of seeing Matt’s family or doing anything other than go to work and come home, and Matt dreads telling her about going away for his brother’s bachelor party and having to travel for work. During a few flashbacks we learn that the couple met at the office while they were each dating other people, and throughout their relationship Maeve’s ex-boyfriend is constant a source of worry. Eventually it comes to light that this ex-boyfriend raped Maeve right after her and Matt’s wedding, but the Dublin police refused to do anything about it. The other tenants of 66 Star Street come together one strange night because of a tragedy in Matt and Maeve’s apartment, but that’s about as far as I can go with the spoilers.

When I say Marian Keyes has the ability to make upsetting situations seem funny, I do not mean that she makes rape and depression and anxiety seem funny. Not one of those things is funny. Keyes makes her characters’ lives seem so disastrous, yet she allows them to maintain an incredible sense of humor about it all. In other words, I think she does an excellent job writing about the human condition (or the Irish human condition, at the very least). So, despite a very odd choice of narrator, this book is an excellent read. It’s not quite as good/funny as her Walsh family books, but it’s fairly awesome nonetheless.

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