Marian Keyes unlocks another romantic mystery in this exciting sequel to Anna Walsh's story

19 May 2024 - 00:00
By Jennifer Platt
Marian Keyes, one of the few authors who know how to skillfully write authentic female characters, no matter their age.
Image: Supplied Marian Keyes, one of the few authors who know how to skillfully write authentic female characters, no matter their age.

My Favourite Mistake 

4/5 stars
Marian Keyes
Michael Joseph

There are very few things that provide ultimate comfort: a roast chicken with all the delicious sides; a few undisturbed hours on the couch wrapped in a mink blanket watching Law & Order: SVU; taking off your bra after a long day; a warm bubble bath with scented candles and wine; and a new, thick Marian Keyes to get stuck into.

The reader knows what solace to expect in a Keyes’s novel, and My Favourite Mistake is another featuring the favourite Walsh family. Like Again, Rachel, it’s a sequel, this time featuring the fourth sister Anna (there are five of them) and the rest of the loud brood.

There have been a few mixed feelings and reviews on Keyes’s latest works. Some critics say it's the same old, same old, with characterisations that are flat and plots that are tedious. Bah humbug! Yes, her 2021 book Grown Ups was a tad saggy with a bit too many main characters to keep track of, but it was still a great book. Not peak Keyes, but enjoyable. In Again, Rachel she returned to her witty form and finds her magical charm and romance.

The same could be said of My Favourite Mistake. Just like Keyes and her loyal readers, Anna is now grown up. She is no longer stomping around in her late 20s and 30s. In Anybody Out There, the first book to feature her as the main protagonist, we saw her coming to terms with the loss of her husband, Aiden.

Now, 15 or so years later, she is in her late 40s and after the dreaded Covid-19 lockdown and cohabiting with her “full-blown Feathery Stroker”* Angelo, they decide it’s time to consciously uncouple. She’s also struggling with burnout from her high-paying job as a beauty PR and coming to terms with perimenopause. She tries to fix things by taking up hobbies such as weaving, but her loom is no longer soothing her anxiety and she decides to leave her life in New York and return to Ireland.

'My Favourite Mistake' by Marian Keyes.
Image: Supplied 'My Favourite Mistake' by Marian Keyes.

Having no money, no job, no house, she is left staying with Margaret (the sensible sister featured in Angels) and her dependable husband Garv.

Anna has to find a doctor to prescribe her HRT, which is not easy as her sister Claire laments. “Jesus Christ!” Claire raged. “If a man came in with an itchy bollock, he’d be prescribed painkillers, antihistamines and a hot girl in a porn-y nurses costume to scratch it for him. But if a woman shows up with a sinus infection or a verruca, they get antidepressants. Except if they’re actually depressed, then they’re told to get a dog.”

Anna, who says she feels like a blank space, “I’m not the person I was but I’ve no clue who I am going to be”, is excited when she is given the chance to help old friends Brigit and Colm.

Their 13-year-old daughter Queenie is in dire straits in hospital due to cancer, and their luxury coastal retreat they are building has been recently vandalised, with investors threatening to pull out. Anna is all set to be dispatched to the fictional tiny town of Maumtully to defuse the local hostility, but a previous situationship might hinder her plans. His name is Joey Armstrong, and something angsty happened between them. Something horrible which destroyed her friendship with her bestie Jacqui and which caused Joey and Anna never to speak again. However, they have to get over their past to help out Brigit and Colm.

Keyes’s mastery of weaving the past into the present is remarkable. Anna and Joey’s emotional mysteries and love story is balanced with delightful small-town shenanigans. This is Keyes’s 16th novel and shows why she is one of the few authors who know how to skillfully write authentic female characters, no matter their age.

*Keyes writes: “The concept of a Feathery Stroker dated back to the early aughts when Jacqui had spent a disappointing night with a man who’d done nothing but stroke her in gentle ‘feathery’ fashion. She’d have preferred to be flung on the bed, perhaps even to have an inexpensive item of clothing torn from her body. Describing a drama-free, drippy man, the phrase was an instant hit. But as time passed, it widened to encompass men who noticed you’d had your hair cut, men who were good to their mothers, men who ordered dessert that wasn’t cheese and men who changed their sheets more than once a year. It was a damning diagnosis.”