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The Mystery of Mercy Close Hardcover – 13 Sep 2012
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Helen Walsh doesn't believe in fear - it's just a thing invented by men to get all the money and good jobs - and yet she's sinking. Her work as a Private Investigator has dried up, her flat has been repossessed and now some old demons have resurfaced.
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Marian Keyes is a prolific and phenomenally successful author, and someone I've always found interesting, funny and immensely likeable. I follow her on Twitter, I've read and seen countless interviews with her and I've found her to be perceptive and articulate on all manner of issues. Despite this, while I've read plenty of her non-fiction, I've never read any of her novels. I'm now wondering if the aforementioned cover art has subconsciously put me off, but that's by the by: I've now read The Mystery of Mercy Close and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I've mentioned before that I like Nick Hornby, Helen Fielding and John O'Farrell and if I had to categorise this book I would put it in a similar category - very funny, intelligent and astutely perceptive on all manner of serious issues. At the start of the book, private investigator Helen Walsh has fallen into financial difficulties during the recession and is forced to abandon her Dublin flat and move back in with her parents while she undertakes a job for her shady ex-boyfriend, Jay Parker.
Parker is the manager of an Irish boy-band, Laddz, who are about to embark on a high-profile reunion tour which could make him an awful lot of money. But one of the band, Wayne (the wacky one - as Helen points out, "in all generic boy bands, you have five types. The Talented One. The Cute One. The Gay One. The Wacky One. And the Other One") has disappeared, and it's up to Helen to find him. The investigation then expands to involve a large cast of characters, all of whom seem to leap fully-formed from the page no matter how small a part they play in the story, thanks to Keyes' ability to build a full picture of a person with just a few perfectly chosen details.
What really made this book stand out for me is, however, is one particular thing about the main character: she is severely depressed. She's not simply sad because she's lost her flat. She's not sad because she's worried about her boyfriend's infuriatingly close relationship with his ex-wife. She is clinically and severely depressed - suicidal, in fact, and this isn't glossed over.
Marian Keyes has been very open in the past about her own experience of depression and I think it will help some people to know this when they read the book - particularly if they don't feel that Helen would be capable of functioning as effectively as she does while going through a depressive episode. Helen's depression isn't, perhaps, quite what some readers might expect of someone in that mental state, but I personally found it to ring very true. "I've heard people say that having depression is like being hounded by a big black dog," says Helen. "Or like being encased in glass. It was different for me. I felt more like I'd been poisoned. Like my brain was squirting out dirty brown toxins, polluting everything - my vision and my taste buds and most of all my thoughts."
Marian Keyes is particularly good at capturing the sheer absurdity of depression, from the constant sense of impending doom to the incessant pressure to take up yoga. It's a myth that people with depression are constantly serious, and Helen is more than capable of being flippant and wry about her illness, as many of us are. I don't think, in fact, that I've ever read an account of depression that matched so closely with my own experience - and yet at no point did I find it uncomfortable to read.
I don't think there are many writers who would be capable of writing a book about someone suicidally depressed in a way that's laugh-out-loud funny but never insensitive or crass, but Marian Keyes manages to do so with remarkable warmth, honesty and charm. I loved this book, and I'll definitely be reading more of her fiction.
I was really looking forward to the final Walsh sister's book, having fallen in love with their whole family and I was not disappointed here. Helen has never been my favourite character, as despite being hilarious she always seemed a little superficial, but I think that is because she has always been a background figure. This book changes that and brings new dimensions to her character that make her much easier to relate to and shows depths that I was really surprised by.
The story itself will give long-term Marian Keyes fans a thrill as it brings back Mammy Walsh who is always a winner and provides some proper laughs. It also gives a really honest portrayal of depression, and doesn't pull any punches in showing just how bleak and hopeless it can make you feel. I think this is handled really well, and sensitively. Although Marian isn't shy in describing how wretched it is to have depression, as per usual the really heart-rending moments are interspersed with some light comedy and therefore it isn't too heavy a read as the humour lifts the darkness and gives it a good balance. Helen's thoughts are also hilarious as usual despite some of their blacker moments. She really is a great character and I am glad that she finally got her turn. The mystery element was also fun and took away some of the glamour that I'd imagined private detectives having!
I would recommend this book to most people, especially Marian Keyes fans. She really has a knack of writing about difficult subjects with flair and I think this is probably a mixture of her natural talent and having to navigate herself through similar difficulties. Her books remain well written despite her own problems and I think this is a testament to how good a writer she is. She is still able to bring the reader right in to the story, even after all these years.
However still a very worthwhile read and I would read more by this author - just not in the same league as her best.
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Most recent customer reviews
Well-written and pacy!
Brilliant insight into depression.
Excellently developed characters and a great plot.