Saturday, September 21, 2013


1995, 2002 "first edition" (?)*, from Avon
Marian Keyes
Bought new for $14.99
Paperback in great condition

So about five years ago, I was traveling in Northern Scotland and the hostel I was staying at had a terrible dryer and a good book collection.  I stayed up most of the night, waiting for my clothes to dry, and reading this novel.  When I got back to the States, I couldn't remember the name of the book or the author, but I must've run across one or the other at some point.  And I went on to get a few of the other "Walsh sisters" books out of the library, but only bought one, Angels (2002).  Then on a trip to Canada I found two more in a used bookstore.  So last week I went out and bought Watermelon.

And yet, I can't say I'm a huge fan.  At least one critic has compared Keyes to Maeve Binchy, in that they're both Irishwomen who write "chick-lit," but Keyes is a lot more crude and flippant than Binchy.  Also, she doesn't write about little Irish villages in the '40s and '50s.  As near as I can tell, Keyes sticks mostly to Dublin, London, and NYC.  And instead of showing a whole community, from the postman to the pubowner, Keyes centres her stories on friends and family.  In the case of the Walsh books, it's a quirky set of parents and five daughters.

In this, the first of the series, oldest sister (and title character) Claire is 29, while youngest sister Helen is 18.  Despite the cover (on this edition) of a pregnant woman in a white dress, this novel is set in the first five months after Claire gives birth to her daughter (eventually named Kate), the same day her husband leaves her for another woman.  She recalls wearing green during the pregnancy and looking like, yes, a watermelon.  

She goes "home" to her parents in Dublin, and with their support gets through this unusual period of adjustment.  Helen is still living at home, as is next-youngest Anna.  The family is very scene-stealing, especially bitchy but insightful Helen.  Anna is spacy and not around much physically or mentally, but the parents are a hoot.

Claire also meets a "younger man," 24-year-old Adam.  While still mourning her husband James, she finds herself increasingly drawn to Adam.  But he's got a secret of his own (a baby by an ex-girlfriend).  Of course you know she's going to end up with Adam, even when it seems like they'll just have a one-night stand, since James wants her back.  

Or does he?  I was set to give this book a B, despite the gratuituous insults of lesbians and Italians.  But I just didn't feel like either of Claire's love interests were presented consistently.  Yes, I understand that she sees them, James especially, with fresh eyes, but I didn't feel like there were enough hints to take James from The Perfect Husband to (pardon her French) an arsehole.  Also, Claire is a bit of a Mary Sue in that characters keep saying how smart she is, when there's nothing to support this in the text.  She makes stupid choices about men and when she says she loves books, it turns out she means trashy novels.  (Hey, I love me some trash, too, but I don't use that to prove my intelligence.  Even my reading classic literature is not necessarily proof of that.)

Add to that things like Claire being a size queen (like her sisters, as we'll see later) who claims to hate cunnilingus (yet loves it when James kisses her "everywhere"), and she isn't a feminist, except when she suddenly realises her self respect matters and she won't change herself just to make sure Kate's daddy is around (even though he ignores the baby when he visits), I felt a bit whip-lashed by the inconsistent characterisation.  I think Keyes improves in that regard later, not that there aren't still flaws.  But when I was reading Anybody out There for the first time last week, it seemed like I enjoyed it more than Watermelon this week.

Still, for all the flaws here, there was enough that appealed to me five years ago that I returned to the series.  Next up, Rachel's Holiday (1997)....

*To further muddy the issue, there's an author's note in the back:  "I'm thrilled to be published in the U.S.," implying that this was the first time, yet I just bought the book "new" a week ago.  She thanks her (presumably American) editor for her "meticulous, sensitive editing," although there are a bunch of typos, and I kept wondering why these Irishwomen were calling their mother "mum" instead of "mam."  I'm curious to see what the Canadian editions say.

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