You know, if you glanced up at my window right now, you’d think to yourself, ‘Look at that woman. Look at the diligent way she’s sitting upright at her desk. Look at the assiduous way her hands are poised over her keyboard. She’s obviously working very hard…hold on…is that Stella Sweeney?! Back in Ireland? Writing a new book?! I’d heard she was all washed up!’
38-year-old Stella Sweeney wrote an inspirational, international bestseller One Blink at a Time which led to her touring America, but now her life has taken a dramatic turn and she’s back home trying to write book two.
She shares her home with her teenage son, Jeffrey who hates her so much he asked to be put up for adoption at fifteen. Her daughter, Betsy, has stayed in America. Unlike your typical teenager, Jeffrey’s a big fan of yoga and cooking.
Also very much in Stella’s life is her ex-husband and father of her children, Ryan. Ryan’s an artist who’s ended up doing commercial work on bathrooms which has made him successful in a way he didn’t want. He wanted to be Damien Hurst, instead he’s more of a working class Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen. At the beginning of the book, he comes to see Stella to tell them about his ‘big artistic idea!’
I’m calling it Project Karma: I’m going to give away everything I own. Every single thing. My CDs, my clothes, all my money. Every television, every grain of rice, every holiday photograph. My car, my motorbike, my house – ‘
Jeffrey stares at him in disgust. ‘You stupid asshole…You’ll have nowhere to live!’
‘Wrong! Ryan’s eyes are sparkling (but the wrong sort of sparkling, a scary form). ‘Karma will see me right.’
When Stella tries to gently point out that this might be a mistake, Ryan turns on her:
‘No, Stella.’ He’s all but shouting. ‘It should have been me. I’m the one who’s meant to be famous. Not you – me! You’re the woman who stole my life!’
Current events in Stella’s life are told alongside extracts from her book One Blink at a Time. From it we learn about Stella contracting Guillain-Barré Syndrome ‘an astonishingly rare autoimmune disorder, which attacks the peripheral nervous system, stripping the myelin sheaths from the nerves’. Stella spends a year in hospital, during which both her and her family’s life changes enormously, culminating in her and Ryan divorcing.
The book then goes on to tell us how living in New York came about and why Stella’s now back in Ireland. Typically of Marian Keyes’ novels, this happens with a supporting cast of Stella’s family – businesswoman sister, mother and father – and best friend – bitter after her own break-up – and a love interest. Oh, yes.
I’ve been reading Keynes’ novels since I was 19 and a university friend told me I had to read this book she’d come across called Rachel’s Holiday. I was going home for the weekend so bought it on the way to the train station. By the end of the journey I was two-thirds of the way in and I finished it in bed later that night while the rest of the house was asleep. I tell you this so when I say that The Woman Who Stole My Life is one of Keynes’ best books, you know I mean it.
The novel tackles what happens to a family when one of them becomes ill; it looks at what happens to the person who suffers from that illness; it touches on the strain couples who undergo fertility treatment are under; it considers what happens to you when you suddenly become successful and your life is not your own anymore.
The Woman Who Stole My Life is smart, hilariously funny, thoughtful and has the best love interest since Rachel’s Holiday.* It is Marian Keyes at her best.
*I know someone will challenge me on this so, to clarify, Luke was perfect for 19-year-old me, the latest man is perfect for 36-year-old me. In my head, of course.
Thanks to Penguin for the review copy.