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The Other Side of the Story is
Marian Keyes' most sophisticated novel so far. It is told from three
perspectives. The book starts in Ireland with Gemma Hogan, a party organizer,
whose father leaves her mother for his personal assistant. Her mother is
unable to cope on her own, and so Gemma has to live with her and look after her
parent. This completely interrupts her work and social life, but after a few
months she starts having an affair with a younger man that she regards as
nothing serious. Gemma seems angry not just with her father, but all men.
Gemma is especially angry with her
old boyfriend Anton, who betrayed her by getting together with her best friend
Lily Wright. Lily has written a bestselling book, Mimi's Remedies, and
they have a little girl together. They live in London. Anton convinces her
that they should buy a large house, but she needs to have another publishing
success in order for them to avoid the bank repossessing it. That puts a great
deal of pressure on her relationship with Anton.
Gemma's literary agent Jojo Harvey
hopes to become a partner in her firm. Jojo is having an affair with her boss,
Mark, despite the fact that he is married. She is very ambitious and she likes
the cut-throat gossipy publishing world. But she starts to become worried that
her dreams of rising to the top of the career ladder may be thwarted, and she
might in fact fall to the bottom.
Marian Keyes tells the story of her
three heroines with her usual breezy humor. However, this book does much more
to play with the reader and raise some questions about how Keyes sees her the
value of her own work and the goings on of the publishing world. Both Lily and
Gemma are busy writing books (or at least trying to) for most of the novel and
they worry about falling into the "chick-lit" trap, the central
example of which is Bridget Jones' Diary. Indeed, Gemma's book is a
thinly disguised version of her experiences as told in the first chapters of
this very novel, so Keyes is implicitly pondering whether her own work is
"chicklit." But even with this self-consciousness, Keyes' work is
very obviously chick-lit, albeit slightly more complex than the standard fare.
The plot in The Other Side of
the Story moves along fast, and the alternation between the different
perspectives keeps it interesting. Early on, much of the plot is narrated in Gemma's
emails to her friend in Seattle. The biggest problem is that her heroines are
rather less likeable than her lead characters in her previous novels. Lily and
Anton have a certain charisma, but they are foolish in their financial
decisions, and Lily is annoyingly unconfident. Jojo has few regrets about
breaking up another woman's marriage. Gemma treats her lover nastily and then
gets upset when he breaks up with her. These women are all deeply flawed,
although they become more appealing by the end of the novel. They don't
necessarily get what they had originally hoped for, but they learn from their
mistakes and start to give up the grudges they used to hold. It is an
entertaining story, and a good holiday read.
The unabridged audiobook is read
well by Terry Donnelly.
© 2004 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.