Fiona Stocker's Reviews > The Break

The Break by Marian Keyes
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really liked it

She's great craic, Marian Keyes. I've read a few of hers before and thought, there's a writer who doesn't put a word wrong. Besides being great craic, she's clever, for a so-called 'commercial women's fiction' writer. That's what she'd be classed as.

Whereas Colm Toibin who I've moved on to next would be classed as altogether more serious. And it shouldn't be so.

When I scored a copy of The Break for a dollar at my corner shop in a fairly remote part of Tasmania, I was pleased. Marian Keyes is clever because she manages to be all the things a reading woman such as me wants of a book in my busy mid-life. She's entertaining and engrossing; I look forward to catching up with the characters and the story at the end of every day. She's irreverent, in a real and authentic way that makes you feel it's okay not to be entirely serious and listening to the news all the time, at a time when the news is always pretty shit. And finally, she's always just quietly addressing something relatable, like staying married through your mid-life, and occasionally something important, like a lack of government sanctioned, public serviced, legal abortion services.

SPOILER ALERT. Three quarters of the way through this book one of the female characters has an unwanted pregnancy and the family (of women at this point) have to deal with the crisis, in Ireland, where abortion is still illegal. Keyes writes about it in a very real and pragmatic way which conveys both the emotional distress and logistical difficulties. The fear of going to prison if you're found to have ordered an abortion tablet online. The banal challenge of finding somewhere to stay in London when you go over to have the procedure there, getting back to Ireland on the plane when the patient is in pain, and finding someone who's available to pick the person up from the clinic when the mature adults in the story are either at work at commitments that can't be rearranged, or are men who aren't really well enough known to the patient.

Women all over the world can relate to this. There are no public service abortion clinics in Tasmania currently. Our state government struggles to sort this out, partly because it's difficult to find places to locate such clinics for the safety and privacy of those using them, and partly because our government is run by conservative men, some of whom appear to have religious views which make it difficult for them to get on with this part of their job.

The rest of this book is a story about a mid-life couple who have a bit of a crisis. It's very relatable. It made me feel better and more determined about my own marriage. It was a bit long winded towards the end, and the central character Amy resists getting back together again with Hugh a bit longer than she should have done. But it was a highly diverting read for at least a week.

I've read a lot of literary fiction and commercial fiction in my reading life, and there's a constant narrative in my head about the relative merits of the two, and whether there should even be a distinction. The Colm Toibin book I've moved on to (another Irish writer, male, perceived to be all manner of highbrow and poetic) is about similar things, it's about a mother of four who's lost her husband and has to cope. Similar mid-life crisis written from the woman's point of view, then. But this is by a Serious Man Writer. I started it last night and I'm one chapter in so far. The literary conventions are apparent already. There's faithful retelling of banal conversation. And you know what? It feels bloody painful to read. Not in a good way, but in A BORING WAY.

There's faithful retelling of banal conversation in Marian Keyes' writing as well, but it's a whole lot more relatable, entertaining and skilful. So I'll give Colm Toibin a bit more of a craic, but he's going to have to pull his socks up.

After all the reading of literary fiction I've done in my life, I've now written my own, deliberately commercial book. I applied for funding from Arts Tasmania and was told they looked for 'literary merit'. Apparently, wanting to publish a book that has the potential, at least, to sell well because it's written in a fluent, highly entertaining (I now have readers' comments to prove it!) and relatable way and is good writing, is not a worthy enough aim for Arts Tasmania.

I'm not a literary writer. There are moments of literary flair in my book, but I have set out from the start to write something that is heart-warming and relatable, but also looks at challenges we all face. A lot like Marian Keyes.

I've seen some of the aspiring 'literary' fiction that gets funding from Arts Tasmania. It makes the right noises, in that it's about the right subject matter - the Tasmanian landscape, Tasmanian indigenous heritage, Tasmania's environmental value - but it wasn't very good writing, at a very basic level. Clumsy, dull use of language, prose that didn't flow from the page but was lumpen and boring.

Two reasons I don't want to write like that are 1) it's not very good writing, and 2) I wanted to write something that will sell so that I can support myself and just maybe buy a caravan and go on holiday with my husband and children. Sorry, Arts Tasmania, if those are the wrong aspirations.

If that's literary fiction, and to some government departments at least, it is, I'll carry on the way I am thanks. I actually doubt that Colm Toibin is going on many five star holidays if his book carries on being as boring as it is at the moment, so there's another reason to eschew five star literary fiction career too.

Thanks Marian Keyes, my dollar was well spent and I'd have paid a bit more too.

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Reading Progress

November 22, 2018 – Shelved
Started Reading
November 23, 2018 – Finished Reading

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