A review by Nalini Haynes
Imprint: Michael Joseph (Penguin UK)
Format: Paperback, 500 pages
Stella Sweeney wrote a book that hit the New York Times Bestseller List then she returns to Ireland, broke, with her teenage son in tow to write a second novel. As The Woman Who Stole My Life progresses, we learn about Stella’s backstory: how she is paralysed by Guillain-Barré syndrome; she takes nearly a year to recover; how her husband, Ryan, and children, Betsy and Jeffrey, are angry with her for being ill; her guilt… How she fell for her neurologist whilst lying in a hospital bed paralysed… How she accidentally writes a book; how publishing takes over her life; the hell that is book tours and bestseller lists and…
This is the second novel I’ve read in a month written about a fictional author and the publishing industry. Both offer similar yet differing perspectives: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld is about a YA fantasy author while The Woman Who Stole My Life is about a self-help author who needs to help herself.
Keyes lays it all out there, exposing women’s guilt like a used sanitary product while a father is considered a hero for buying his daughter tampons. Because his wife is paralysed, in hospital, unable to even speak. Black comedy, much?
When Stella’s book is launched, her heroic husband dubs her ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ because, in their family script, Ryan is supposed to be the artistic person while Stella is supposed to be the support, the woman who makes everything run smoothly while remaining forever in the background.
Ryan’s reaction to Stella’s success is way over the top and yet… Google it. It’s been done in real life.
Stella’s kids, Betsy and Jeffrey, are teenagers with contrasting personalities, standing in for ‘everyteen’. The Woman Who Stole My Life‘s backdrop includes social media, contemporary slang (‘adorbs’, ‘whatevs’), watching Modern Family and so on, creating a relatable current story.
Marian Keyes has written fabulous fiction like Rachel’s Holiday, one novel in a series featuring a family of sisters facing the world. Rachel’s ‘holiday’ is a visit to a drug rehabilitation clinic. As an inmate.
Keyes writes real issues for real women, blending gritty truths with feel-good comedy and great heart. If Marian Keyes was a man she would be hailed as at least an equal of Jonathan Franzen. The Woman Who Stole My Life is highly recommended.
Rating: 4 1/2 stars