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This Charming Man by Marian Keyes (book review and recommendation)

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It is not what it looks like. Nothing is what it looks like in this novel. First of all, this novel is no romance. It isn't chic lit either, even if it shares some features with it. This Charming Man is a novel about abuse. The cover and the synopsis make you think chic-lit but you're be wrong. It is a book about abuse. Sexual, mental and physical abuse. It is a book about obsession and addiction. It is a book that features a set of deeply troubled characters. One of them is an alcoholic and hence there is a lot of writing about alcoholism, how it destroys both the individual suffering from it and those around him/her. Shattered relationships, utterly destroyed individuals, troubled and destroyed family dynamics...definitely not your typical chic-lit novel. Nevertheless, there is humour in this book. There is even a bit of romance, so there is a fair chance it could be attractive to a wide(r) audience of readers. A bit of suspense, a bit of mystery, a bit of psychology and a bit of romance. There is a bit of everything in this one. Fascinating stuff. 

 It is a novel that I read  in one sitting. Thinking about it now, I'm glad that I did. As I wrote on goodreads: 'I've read This Charming Man in one ago. Two nights go, or to be more precise, sometime between midnight and six am. It wasn't because it was one of the best books I've ever read. It was more that I was feeling rather horrid, couldn't sleep and decided that I might as well read my way through the night. Not that it wasn't a good book. It was, actually, a surprisingly good read. '

This novel is more that I thought it was. It is deeper than it seems at first glance. However, I do have some issues with it. I mentioned domestic abuse. Well, there are some very graphic description of violence in this novel and somehow it doesn't sit well with its often 'lighter' tone. This novel is so mixed and varied in terms of the style it is written in, and while it makes it a fresh and an interesting read, at times it doesn't feel appropriate. It is like the book got stuck in between the worlds. Either it should have been darker, and gone deeper in psychological portrayal of characters, or it should have taken it a bit easy on the violence descriptions.

If you pick up such a serious topic and base your book on it, you should really give it your all- you know what I mean? If someone (even if he is a fictional character) causes life treating injuries to so many women, it is something that should have been dealt seriously (and in the book, it could have been dealt with in another way). Should you really have jokes and border chic-lit style mixed with themes of domestic abuse? Perhaps it is not a bad thing, perhaps it gets more people to read about such a difficult topic, but this mixing of styles makes the novel seem less real and not 100 percent authentic. That is just my opinion.

Anyway, there are four main (female) characters in this novel (Lola, Grace, Marnie and Alicia) and all four of them are startled when they lean that Paddy is getting married. Paddy is a popular young politician, who is also very handsome and charming. Lola is the stylist who is dating Paddy at the moment. The novel opens with her and all the chapters devoted to her character are written in first person narration. The next to take up her space in the narrative is a Grace, a journalist whose sister has had a troubled past with Paddy. Her narrative is written in first person as well. Grace's narrative is followed by that of Marnie, her twin sister and hers is written in the third person. Alicia, the lady who is getting married to Paddy is surprised herself to hear the news about her engagement because he hadn't even bothered to ask her first. It remains unclear whether it is something he had planned or not.


Lola is an adorable character. Very easy to sympathize with, very human and decent sort of girl. I enjoyed her character development. Some things she did weren't convincing, but on overall I did like her character...there was just one thing that I didn't cared for and that is the style of writing the author chose for her. I have a confession to make. I struggle to understand bad English. I know what you might think-what do you mean, it's not even your mother tongue. Say what you want, but sentences that make no grammatical sense get on my nerves, alright? I don't like them. The dropping of pronouns and indefinite might say, well, some people speak like that...yet I'm not convinced. Are people really getting that lazy? Do they really talk like that all the time? Yes, we shorten our sentences in everyday speech, but all the time? I don't think so--Here it is done in such an extent to make Lola appear a simpleton. I didn't like it. It was a wee bit overdone. 


Grace is my favourite character in this book. Her inner struggle seemed the most convincing. In the course of the novel, she is presented with a moral dilemma that brought to light the complexity of her character. There are a lot of layers to her character and there is more than might meet the eye. I felt that her psychological portrayal was done rather well. Grace is the solid kind of woman, the one that everyone can lean on. Interestingly enough she has the same effect on this novel. It is as she made the story seem more plausible. Her relationship crisis was so easy to relate her. Grace's love for her troubled sister was tangible. It was easy to feel for her, it was easy to like her...Grace has this way of making you open up to other characters as well.


The writer really did a great job with making this character come to life. The descriptions of Marnie's neurosis, chaotic behaviour and 'dark thoughts' were extremely believable. You could really feel that you are witnessing the way in which Marnie's mind was slipping. As Marnie's fragile psychological health gets shattered, the writer is showing to us what the depth of depression and addiction looks like. Marnie is the most troubled character in this novel. At times incredibly selfish and self-indulgent, Marnie is a women who is going nowhere fast. She is suffering from depression, she is an alcoholic, she's making horrible choices all the time, she hurts everyone around her- and yet the writer makes you feel for her. One thing that bothered me is that I didn't really understand her relationship with Paddy. There was a lot of 'explaining it' going on towards the end- but still, I didn't feel I got it.


In her past life, she used to be a friends with Marnie and Grace....and Paddy. Her infatuating with Paddy seems to be the ruling force of her life. She settled for a loveless marriage with a gay man, but when she became a widow, she welcomed a change to date Paddy again...and to become Paddy's wife. Her actions made sense, but there was space for her character development at the end, but she was just left hanging.


As I said, there are some things I didn't like about this book. Take the villain protagonist- i.e. Paddy. We never learn that much about him, do we? The synopsis says he shapes the lives of these women, but to what extent is that true? He is obviously an abuser and a bully, but in many ways he seems unconvincing and not that well developed. I can't phantom why all the ladies were drawn to him. There is a lot of talk about his good looks, but that's like Martian to me. I wouldn't have a clue what should make a man psychically attractive-according to modern standards anyway. I like to think that woman are above such superficial things, but I'm obviously not right. Looks seem to play an important part in power balance in modern dating- but I'm not up to date so I really don't know what passes for sexy these days. Now, about Paddy's charisma, that was mentioned often enough, but never exactly made evident. In other words, it was talked about not showed. The other question is- how he got away with it all? There are no proofs of his superior intelligence. Moreover, he is a rising political star not the president of the country, so it is unclear as to why he has so much power (not to mention money).


The happy ending felt wrong. NOT that I wasn't hoping for this Paddy guy to get what he deserved. I was...but I also hoped that the punishment would be more severe. This way it feels like he might still get a shot at life...and who knows what havoc he will unleash in the future? There are some other aspects of it that I found troubling, but I'm not sure how to get into it without making a spoiler, so I won't. Ending in which everyone gets and feels better certainly feels like a relief after all the 'horror' most of the female characters went through, but it doesn't feel realistic. Not at all.

Finally, despite it being somewhat messy and underdeveloped in some parts, I'm giving this book four stars because I love how ambitious it is. This novel has a heart. It tackled some rather difficult themes and while I'm not completely satisfied with how it was done, I admire the effort and the work that went into it. This charming man is a novel well worth reading, a novel that managed to bring its protagonists to life and develop an interesting story with elements of suspense and romance in the process. The writing is very good, even if a bit chaotic at times (with the change of styles and everything). It is a novel that has its flaws, but in light of its freshness and boldness, I think these flaws deserve to be somewhat overlooked.


This was my first novel by Marian Keyes, but I'm pretty sure that it won't be my last. This Irish author impressed me deeply. I can't wait to read more of her.
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