We all gave a little scream of delight when Marian Keyes announced another novel about the Walsh sisters. Shirley Benton-Bailey shares her love of those crazy Irish sisters.
Tennis has Venus and Serena Williams. The movies have Alec, Stephen, William and Daniel Baldwin. Women’s fiction has the Walsh sisters. When Marian Keyes’ first novel Watermelon burst onto the literary scene in the 1990s, we were introduced to a family so madcap, they made the Griswolds in the National Lampoon movies look tame – and we couldn’t get enough of them. In Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, Angels and Anybody Out There?, we accompanied Claire, Rachel, Maggie and Anna Walsh along their respective journeys in life, with their younger sister Helen providing some choice one-liners along the way.
Never one suited to staying in the background, it’s almost time for Helen’s much-anticipated turn in the spotlight. September 2012 sees the release of Helen’s story, The Mystery of Mercy Close, and fans of the Walsh sisters are counting down the days until it hits the shelves.
In the run-up to one of the most eagerly awaited books this year, we thought now would be a good time to re-introduce the Walsh sisters we’ve met to date, take a look back at the journeys we’ve been on with them and look ahead to what we can expect from Helen – and if anyone can knock Fifty Shades of Grey off the top of the charts, my money would be on Helen to do it!
Claire is the heroine of Watermelon. Marian herself describes Claire as a ‘quite bolshie, optimistic, sprightly kind of woman who’s hard to suppress’. Good thing, that, because on the day Claire gives birth to her first baby, her husband James visits her in the recovery room to inform her that he’s leaving her for another woman. Claire has no choice but to leave London and go home to her eccentric family in Dublin. There, she initially crumbles before learning how to cope – and cope quite well, actually. So well in fact that when James slithers back into her life, he’s in for a bit of a surprise. You can’t help but empathise with Claire and fall a little bit in love with this book, which leaves you wanting to hear more about the Walsh family.
Rachel’s Holiday is Marian Keyes’ third release but the second that features the Walsh sisters. We first meet Rachel properly in this, her own book (she’s “out forrin” in Watermelon), where she’s introduced as someone with such a fondness for recreational drugs that her family whip her out of her New York life and home to Dublin for a spell in Cloisters – Dublin’s answer to the Betty Ford Clinic – following a drug overdose and perceived suicide attempt. As far as Rachel is concerned, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her – she just knows how to have a good time, that’s all. Although all of this is clearly a misunderstanding, she agrees to her incarceration because she’s heard that rehab is wall-to-wall jacuzzis, gymnasiums and rock stars going tepid turkey – and it’s about time she had a holiday. But are things really that simple? And what about the man she left behind, Luke – the man who wears his leather trousers too tight and attracts and embarrasses Rachel in equal measure? Rachel tells her story in the first person, alternating between the present day and flashbacks, and is someone you’ll change your opinion of several times as the book progresses. Be warned – she may blindside you.
Angels tells the story of the “good” girl in the family, Maggie. Unlike her dysfunctional sisters, Maggie has always lived a quiet life. Where Rachel was reckless and Claire dramatic, Maggie settled early for safety. Then one day, she left her husband and ran away to Hollywood. Devastated at the discovery that her husband is having an affair and her boss is going to fire her, she runs for the shelter of her best friend, Emily, who lives in Los Angeles. There, with the help of sunshine and long days at the beach, she will lick her wounds and decide where life will take her next. But from the moment she lands in the City of Angels, things are not quite what she expected. Overnight, she’s mixing with movie stars, even pitching film scripts to studios. Most unexpectedly of all, she finds that just because her marriage is over, it doesn’t mean her life is. Angels might not get as much attention as Watermelon and Rachel’s Holiday, but it’s a superbly solid book that keeps the reader engaged from start to finish and it contains some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments and scenes.
Anybody Out There? is narrated by Anna, the quirkiest of the Walsh sisters. Like Rachel, Anna returns to Dublin from New York after a life-changing event – an accident that has left her with multiple fractures and a disfiguring facial scar. But she’s back without something very important – her husband, Aidan, who is no longer returning her phone calls or answering her emails. As the owner of what she describes as ‘The Best Job in the World’, working in PR with a cosmetics company and getting oodles of free goodies on a daily basis, Anna is desperate to return to her life in New York, start work again and find Aidan. But when she eventually returns, unhealed in every sense possible, she slowly realises that life will never be the same again… Is it time for Anna to move on? Is it even possible to? A motley group of misfits, an earth-shattering revelation, two births and one very weird wedding might help Anna find some answers – and change her life forever – Anybody Out There? is the most poignant of the Walsh sisters books to date, but the poignancy of kooky Anna’s tale co-exists expertly with Marian’s trademark humour, aided and abetted by updates on Helen’s job as a private investigator.
And so, to Helen! In an interview with Literaturschock, Marian is quoted as saying that Helen would be a tricky character to write, because ‘all my books are about characters with flaws and vulnerabilities’ – and Helen just doesn’t seem to do vulnerable. However, Marian’s official website indicates that we may be about to see a new side to Helen Walsh in The Mystery of Mercy Close. She’s described as “courageous, vulnerable and wasp-tongued” – and while fans of the Walsh sisters will be looking forward to getting reacquainted with Helen’s barbs, it will also be interesting to see a new softer aspect to her personality. Helen’s work as a private investigator has dried up, her flat has been repossessed and some old demons have resurfaced – not least in the form of her charming but dodgy ex-boyfriend Jay Parker, who shows up with a missing person’s case. Money is tight – so tight Helen’s had to move back in with her elderly parents – and Jay is awash with cash. The missing person is Wayne Diffney, the “Wacky One” from boy band Laddz. He’s vanished from his house in Mercy Close and it’s vital that he’s found – Laddz have a sell-out comeback gig in five days time. Helen finds herself drawn into a dark and glamorous world, where her worst enemy is her own head and where increasingly the only person she feels connected to is Wayne, a man she’s never even met. Only two months to go … but if you just can’t wait that long to hear from Helen, the good news is that she’s now on Twitter at @RealHelenWalsh Just don’t tweet her about dogs, avocados, eejits or drizzle – stop by her page and you’ll know why!
Shirley Benton-Bailey is the author of Looking for Leon and Can We Start Again?