• Deborah MB

'Grown Ups' family needs more than food and adulting

Marian Keyes’ Grown Ups is an exploration of human and family relationships, as well as a long-winded complain about ‘adulting’. The Casey-Kinsella family, linked by overachiever Jessie, is on a holiday when Cara, one of the sisters-in-law, suffers a concussion. As a result, she lets out the secrets that everyone is hiding, from money to infidelity. In a series of past episodes, everybody’s foibles and miseries are revealed to the reader, the better to welcome the happy endings. Clearly, this is a holiday read, centred around the small indignities of family interactions that make us all feel our families are not that bad, after all.

Beyond that, the story is a warning tale on the consequences of lack of self-esteem: Jessie, who uses perfectionism and veneer of success to covering her fear of rejection; Cara, who we soon realise is the main character, struggles with bulimia; Nell, the young artistic altruist, hides behind her judgemental morality; Johnny, the husband of the successful ideal woman, looks down upon by himself, mirroring his parents’ opinion; Ed, the middle son, whom everyone likes but lacks the will to succeed; and Liam, the narcissistic sportsman who won’t accept his own mediocrity. It is no wonder the younger generation feels unable to overcome their role models.

Who would enjoy this

Keyes’ work is clearly aimed at middle-class professional mothers with children up to the teens. I would expect this volume to be a holiday-read project, long enough to keep the reader busy but not so heavy so as to require a lot of attention.

As mentioned above, Grown Ups is the sort of volume one picks to feel better about oneself. I highly recommend it for anyone who needs some drama, but still likes to identify with the characters in the story. It is nice to know that, no matter how badly one messes up, there is always love to deliver you a happy ending.

Who should give this a pass

There are two types of people who should leave this book on the shelf: people who prefer narratives with unique plots; and people who really suffer from eating disorders, addictions and anxieties. The first group would be too frustrated by the lack of challenge in this story. The second would be too heavily assaulted by the repeated honing in on the neuroses and behaviours of the characters.

Conclusions and suggestions

I started Grown Ups with high expectations, and in high spirits. Neither of them was to last long. I wasn’t disappointed, per se, more let down flat. Other than its address of destructive eating patterns, I did not find much to get drawn to. From a known, and established, author such as Marian Keyes, I was looking forward to growth as a writer. Well, the book is not a bad read. It is simply more of the same.

I guess my main suggestion would be linked to stretching boundaries. Even solid, repeat readership gets tired with the same story, different names. Mrs Keyes clearly intends to add value, yet she keeps it so within her known style and standard plot, that it becomes little more than an element of characterisation. Soon enough, the audience will get tired with predicting outcomes, so they will migrate to new authors. That would be a great pity.

On a, maybe, lighter note, I would recommend avoiding attempting vernacular when it is done only partially. The use of ‘of’ instead of ‘have’, or some swearing, in dialogues is not enough to characterise accent, but it sure suffices to irritate anyone who knows correct language.

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