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Monday 15 October 2012

Sluttery Book Club: The Mystery of Mercy Close, Marian Keyes

It's been three years since Marian Keyes' last novel, so understandably there's been a lot of talk about The Mystery Of Mercy Close. Obviously we wanted to get involved in that chatter and the plot for her latest piqued our interest for Sluttery Book Club. We're going to be discussing the book on Twitter tonight from 7:45, just follow @DomesticSluts and #DSBookClub to join in the conversation!

So what's the book about? Here's the book blurb:

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.

Not least in the form of her charming but dodgy ex-boyfriend Jay Parker, who shows up with a missing persons case. Money is tight and Jay is awash with cash, so Helen is forced to take on the task of finding Wayne Diffney, the 'Wacky One' from boyband Laddz.

Things ended messily with Jay. And she's never going back there. Besides she has a new boyfriend now, the very sexy detective Artie Devlin and it's all going well. But the reappearance of Jay is stirring up all kinds of stuff she thought she'd left behind.

And what did we think?

Sian: This book really surprised me. Take one look at the cover and you'll assume that you're going to be reading a standard chick-lit book. But it's so much more than that and I think the cover pigeon-holes the book into a genre that it doesn't necessarily fit into.

Helen Walsh is such a brilliant character, reading about her breakdown and depression is tough going in parts. But Helen is actually really funny and such an interesting character. She makes the 500-odd pages fly by. I haven't read any of the other Walsh books, but this had made me want to.

I wish I'd loved the story as much as I loved Helen. I had no interest in Jay Parker or any of the Laddz, that part of the book didn't grab me at all. I didn't care about Wayne, although I did enjoy his taste in interiors (how sad I am that Holy Basil isn't a real paint company). The detective story wasn't enough to keep me interested, but the rest of the characters (especially Artie and his family, I might have a bit of a crush on Artie) kept me curled up and reading in bed for five hours.

Marian Keyes isn't a cutesy chick-lit writer, despite what the art department at her publishing house would have you believe. There's a dark side to her books, but it's one that will make you cackle out loud.

Sara: I've been a fan of Marian Keyes since I got over my snobbery about chick lit. Not that Marian writes fluffy pink books with mooning women copping off with inappropriate men. There is a dark heart beating at the core of all her books, from domestic violence to drugs to alcoholism. Her leading women aren't just not perfect, they're often flawed and damaged. Helen is struggling with severe depression and it's this, not the search for Wayne, that grips you. I lost interest in the detective plot, with its endless dead ends, but kept reading because I cared about Helen.

Helen flicks from humour - "I couldn't get through the day wearing clothes belonging to elderly people. I am not Alexa Chung" - to bleakness, describing her depression as "dirty brown toxins, polluting everything". She may be the first actively suicidal chick-lit character. Marian's been candid about her own mental health problems, and I wonder if this is the closest she's come to revealing just how dark things got for her. This book makes us realise how lucky we are to still have her with us.

Kat: I'd never read a Marian Keyes before, but I'd heard enough about her depression to think her an exceedingly interesting woman. Helen Walsh is as well, and Keyes' turn of phrase is so good that I bookmarked plenty of passages and neat sentences on my Kindle. But this is a book that needs a whopping edit. I know it's part of a series, but it's 20 chapters before we find out why Helen has been forced out of her flat, and other fairly key bits of info take just as long. There's a lot of faffing around that just doesn't need to be there, and I put the book down several times for long periods while reading it.

That said, there's something magnetic about Helen Walsh that meant I always did pick it back up. When she gets to the point, Keyes' writing is really excellent. There was one incredible scene between Walsh and her therapist, and after that I was glued to it - reading while walking down the road glued - until I'd finally finished it. I don't think this is one for Keyes newcomers to jump in to, but there are so many good parts that, if this weren't such a bloody long and faffy book, that would be enough to recommend it.

Elizabeth: It’s been a while since I last read some chick-lit so maybe I am out of the loop. But I just did not get on with this book. I spent the first 25 pages thinking it was a bit blah, I just wasn't drawn in. It was a little too predictable and I felt the main character was too obvious and lacking in any real depth. The plot bordered on ridiculous and I just could not get into it. I haven’t finished the book and I am a bit upset I spent 10 quid on it. Sorry, this book was just not my bag.

Frances: It would be really easy to pick holes in The Mystery of Mercy Close. As Kat said, it would have really benefited from someone with a red pen editing a hundred or so pages off it, and I agree with Sian that the detective story alone isn't enough to keep you occupied (there's a really obvious giveaway really early on that make the rest of the twists and turns quite tedious). Personally, I lost interest in Helen's romances too, a real sticking point if you're after a proper 'chick lit' read.

But, as the others have said, it's not really a fluffy chick lit book. It’s much messier and darker than that. It’s Helen’s alternative way of looking at the world that kept me reading, whether that’s the frank descriptions of her depression or simply her church fete shopping tips. Her character has stayed with me since I finished the book while the rest of the storyline (a few good gags aside) is rapidly fading from my memory.

The Sluttery Verdict: We enjoyed reading about Helen Walsh more than we enjoyed the Mystery of Mercy Close. The actual storyline didn't tick our boxes and the plot simply wasn't interesting enough when it wasn't about Helen. She's the reason that we kept reading. One thumb up for this book - it's not Keyes' best (and not the one we'd start with if you haven't had the pleasure - Last Chance Saloon and The Other Side of the Story might be better choices) but Helen Walsh is a brilliant and fascinating character.

Next time? The next Sluttery Book Club read is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (we're not strictly supposed to judge books by their covers, but this one is particularly gorgeous). It's all about a flapper and her adventures in 1930s New York and we're looking forward to chatting about it next month. Want to join us? Just make sure you've read the book before November 19th so you can join in on the discussion.


  1. Rachel's Holiday is absolutely fabulous - this is Rachel Walsh's story of her descent into drug addiction and experiences of rehab and beyond. I've read all Marian's books and this is still the one I love the best

    1. Very temped by Rachel's Holiday. Maybe for my next long train journey.


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