Review: The Mystery of Mercy Close

Marian Keyes needs no introduction, nor does her ongoing battle to manage her mental health; something I really respect her for.  It is a subject she speaks about openly and it even formed the basis of her non-fiction tile, Saved By Cake, published earlier this year.  If you’d like you can watch a short video clip below of the day she shot the cover for her beautiful baking book.

So when Helen Walsh, the narrator of The Mystery of Mercy Close, begins to describe her depression, I found myself wondering how much of Marian made up Helen.  It seems a natural enough reaction when I read the protagonist was on medication, suffering from anxiety, had previously been hospitalised and occasionally had hallucinations.  I’m not complaining, this is more of an aside.  It didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, it was just a little distracting is all.

Helen has just moved back into her parents’ house after her business as a private investigator became another casualty of Ireland′s economic crisis.  She can’t afford to pay her mortgage, the heating and lighting bills or feed herself.  So far, so familiar to many of us Irish in 2012.  But more than all this, Helen can’t find the energy, enthusiasm or plain ol’ motivation to keep herself going.  This is where her mental health history butts in and things get a little grim.

As luck would have it, a new project arrives to provide much-needed distraction.  Helen′s ex-boyfriend Jay Devlin, offers her some freelance work.  He is managing the reunion of a popular Irish boy band, Laddz, and is panicked as ‘Wacky Wayne’ has done a runner.  Bad timing, just a few days before the big money-making concert that is supposed to haul them all out of a financial hole.  What follows is Helen’s attempts to regain her passion for life and plenty of laughs, provided mainly by the incredibly Irish and often cringingly close to home portrayal of the Laddz ‘celebrities’.

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes | Penguin Books | Marian Keyes Book ReviewI’m a Marian fan and have been since Watermelon and Rachel’s Holiday.  Simply put, it was the first time I had read such a familiar and distinctively Irish voice and Irish sense of humour in a chick-lit novel and I loved it.  I tuned out a bit around the time of Last Chance Saloon and Sushi for Beginners, but was happy to rejoin the fold with This Charming Man. That was because I thought it was a return to form, it packed a punch.

The Mystery of Mercy Close also packs a punch, I’m just not sure the narrative is smooth enough.  The depiction of Helen’s depression is bleak, tough and will hit nerves all over.  Jumping from this to the slight overloads of “Shur aren’t we all Irish having the mighty craic” humorous dialogue that occasionally occurs in Keyes’ writing is a little too jarring.  This coupled with the convenient happy ending, means the brilliant depiction of Helen as an Irish Everywoman in our challenging contemporary society was weakened.

I would love to read something that goes right into the nitty-gritty and stays with it.  Mercy Close was almost there but relied too heavily on the tried-and-tested hilarity route.  It’s almost as though Keyes, or her publisher, was afraid going too dark would alienate her fan base.  Yes, we know she is a funny writer, a quick and clever mind, but she also has a lot more depth.  It′s a pity Mercy Close shied away from being a much stronger read.


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