A funny new novel from international bestselling author Marian Keyes about Irish beautician Stella Sweeney who falls ill, falls in love, then falls into a glamorous new life in New York City. When her dream life is threatened, will she rally to reclaim love and happiness?
In her own words, Stella Sweeney is just “an ordinary woman living an ordinary life with her husband and two teenage kids,” working for her sister in their neighborhood beauty salon. Until one day she is struck by a serious illness, landing her in the hospital for months.
After recovering, Stella finds out that her neurologist, Dr. Mannix Taylor, has compiled and self-published a memoir about her illness. Her discovery comes when she spots a photo of the finished copy in an American tabloid—and it’s in the hands of the vice president’s wife! As her relationship with Dr. Taylor gets more complicated, Stella struggles to figure out who she was before her illness, who she is now, and who she wants to be while relocating to New York City to pursue a career as a newly minted self-help memoirist.
Funny, fast-paced, and honest, Keyes’s latest novel is full of her trademark charm and wisdom and is sure to delight her many fans.
Marian Keyes, a preeminent writer of contemporary women’s fiction, is the internationally bestselling author of a cookbook, two autobiographical works, and more than ten novels, including The Brightest Star in the Sky, The Woman Who Stole My Life, and Sushi for Beginners. She… More about Marian Keyes
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Praise for The Woman Who Stole My Life:
“Gloriously funny.” —The Sunday Times (UK)
“A total triumph” —The Daily Mail
“Not only is it a great story with funny, loveable characters, it made me laugh out loud.” —Stylist (UK)
“One of those rare books that will swallow up your day without realising it. Romantic and uplifting it won’t fail to put a smile on your face. Marian Keyes is back to her best.” —The Daily Express (UK)
“A warm and hilarious page turner.” —Good Housekeeping (UK)
“Funny but poignant.” —Marie Claire
“A smart new drama from the awesome Marian Keyes.” —Heat
“Full of twists and turns, with warmth and humour on every page, it doesn’t disappoint.” —Closer
“A modern fairy tale, it’s full of Keyes’s self-deprecating wit” —The Sunday Mirror (UK)
Praise for Marian Keyes:
“Keyes’s witty women . . . humorous writing style, and uplifting tone have become beloved by readers across the globe.” —Chicago Tribune
“Deeply hilarious and unexpectedly deep. Keyes never falters.” —Newsweek
“[A] pleasure to read . . . a sharp and honest exploration of a favorite Keyes theme: resilience.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Keyes’s portrayal of depression is nuanced and authentic. Helen’s vibrant voice is spot-on….” —Publishers Weekly
“A well-crafted novel with engaging characters and a gripping plot.” —Christian Science Monitor
“A tasty literary latte.” —USA Today
“Keyes manages to stuff a smorgasbord of genres into one tasty tale. . . .The real joy is in the journey itself; watching Keyes’s quirky characters as they change partners, reveal battle scars and command your attention on every page.” —People
“From the Brontës to Maeve Binchy to Helen Fielding, British and Irish writers have long specialized in diarylike stories of ordinary women thwarted by unusual circumstances. The Limerick-born Keyes offers an entertaining . . . take on the genre. A fun romp . . .” —Kirkus
1. Your portrayal of the publishing industry and its players is sharp and funny. Are any of the details drawn from your own experience?
Thank you! I’ve been very lucky in that from the word go, my books sold so I didn’t have Stella’s experience of things not really working out for her. But I’ve been on countless hellish book tours—I’ve gone on breakfast telly in New Zealand, feeling genuinely afraid that I was going to vomit after a jetlag-induced sleepless night. I’ve done a few three-week tours, where I averaged four and a half hours of sleep a night. I can’t tell you how many times delayed flights have made me late for literary breakfasts/lunches/dinners and where the crowd turned ugly! I’ve done book “signings” where literally not a single person has turned up. I’ve had missing luggage and had to show up at events with entirely the wrong clothes. Oh yes, plenty of my own experiences went into writing Stella’s book tours.
2. How have you grown as a writer since your first book was published?
I’ve become so much better at editing myself. My books are very conversational and chatty but I’ve managed to rein it in a bit. I’ve become a tidier plotter—things that are set up or promised early in the book need to be threaded through to their completion, they can’t just slip off the radar. I’ve never done a creative writing course, so I’ve learnt the craft of writing on the job and with the guidance of an intelligent, sensitive editor. Writing is like anything else—the more you practice, the better you get.
3. Guillain-Barré is an extremely rare disease and is likely unknown to most readers. How did you discover it and what made you decide to use it as the launching point of Stella’s story?
Yes, Guillain-Barré is an extremely rare disease and I knew nothing about it until about twelve years ago, when over the course of a single weekend, two people I knew contracted it. One of them lived in Chicago, the other lived in Dublin, so it wasn’t as if they were part of a wider epidemic. The coincidence was startling—and the syndrome itself is a strange, unpleasant one, where the patient becomes paralyzed, often losing the use of all their muscles, even their ability to speak and breathe. However, perhaps unusually for such an extreme condition, it’s fully recoverable from.
I thought I’d forgotten all about it until I was writing this book and it resurfaced from my subconscious: I needed to write about a debilitating illness that tests Stella’s endurance, but I also needed the illness to be one that it’s possible, indeed typical, to recover fully from.
4. Part of Stella’s appeal is that she has a very realistic balance of strength and vulnerability. How fully formed was she when you began this novel?
Before I wrote a single word, I knew that Stella was going to be an upbeat character, a straightforward human being, a grounded person, a realist who accepts that sometimes bad stuff happens to good people. It was a real pleasure to spend time in her head—I found her very uplifting!
5. Zoe, Georgie, Gilda, and Karen reflect a wide spectrum of female relationship dynamics, yet each woman—in drastically different ways—helps Stella along on her journey. What does Stella gain from each woman? Have you had any friendships or family dynamics that are similar to hers?
Zoe shows Stella what a person becomes when they succumb to bitterness, so even when things get very bad for Stella, it’s a road she refuses to go down.
Karen is Stella’s brutal voice of reason—telling the truth, even when Stella doesn’t want to hear it.
I love the relationship between Georgie and Stella—they simply couldn’t be more different. Georgie is wildly solipsistic, everything centers around Georgie and she regards humble, uncomplicated Stella as an exotic creature. And Stella “steals” Georgie’s husband. Nevertheless, they bond.
Stella’s relationship with Gilda is extraordinarily complex. When they meet Stella is vulnerable and lonely, living in a foreign country and has lost sight of her usual markers. She’s so afraid (of failure, of looking “wrong”) that she loses her sense of judgment. And Gilda isn’t a bad person, she’s simply an ambitious one. Stella might have been wrong to trust her, but that’s life, isn’t it? We’re human, we make mistakes—we can’t know everything.
As for me, I have a variety of female friends and as I’ve gotten older I see how some people—like my character Zoe—let a loss or betrayal define them. I think it’s perfectly normal to be wounded by events, but I like to carry my scars and move forward, rather than staying stuck in my grievance.
I don’t have anyone as brutally honest as Karen around me—I’m a gentle person and I couldn’t cope with her brand of bruising truth. My friends are frank, but if they have to criticize me, they couch it in kindness.
Yes, I have a couple of Georgies—women who are so glamorous and fabulous that they dazzle me. I find them hugely entertaining, extremely interesting, and I’m very very fond of them—and I think they are of me also. We have absolutely nothing in common, but I still love the time we spend together.
And do I have a Gilda? Well, I’ve certainly been wrong about people. Who hasn’t? Yes, I’ve found myself in “friendships” where I realize that I no longer like the person, or I suddenly realize that they want me for the wrong reasons. However, I’m still open and I’m still willing to give people a chance.
6. You have a very loyal fan base. Do you receive a lot of feedback from your readers? Does that influence your writing in any way?
Yes, I do have a very loyal fan base, which I’m profoundly grateful for. And yes, I do receive all kinds of feedback—mostly extremely positive (thanks, guys!)—but what has become more and more clear to me over the years is that you can’t please all of the people all of the time and that everyone is entitled to her opinion.
Nevertheless, I try to write without taking account of the opinions and asks of others. This sounds extremely arrogant but can I explain: I wrote my first book for me—I didn’t think anyone was ever going to get to read it—so it was written honestly and entirely without self-censorship. And it worked. So I think I best serve my readers by still writing that way. I ask myself, “Would I want to read this book? Would I be convinced by it?”
7. What was the inspiration for Ryan’s Project Karma?
I think I must have read about something similar. Often I read or hear about things and they plant themselves in my subconscious and emerge when I need them. The whole notion of divesting ourselves of all material goods in a quest for happiness is a very old one. I’m sure you know the saying “Possessions possess us.” But for most people, the idea of giving away every single thing they own fills them with horror. And so it proves for Ryan.
8. You mention in the acknowledgments that you named a character after a bidder in a charity auction. How did that come about?
Oh that happens a lot. Many many authors are asked to contribute a name in their next book as a way of raising money for charity.
9. The book ends with a series of beginnings—a new baby, a new stage in Stella and Mannix’s relationship. Could you see revisiting any of these characters in a future book?
In general, I don’t believe in sequels. It’s flattering when people finish reading my books and they want to know more about the characters and how they fare. But I like to think that each of my books is a completed journey—that the characters have been left in a positive place, with the tools to go forward in their lives.
Nevertheless, having said all that, I’m working on an SOS (sort of sequel) to the very first book I wrote twenty years ago, Watermelon. (See question 11.) Because so much time has passed since I first wrote about Claire Walsh, it feels almost like an entirely new book.
10. If The Woman Who Stole My Life was adapted into a film, who would be your ideal actors?
I’m sorry if I sound snippy, but I get asked this question a lot (about all my books) and it drives me mad! It feels to me that films are regarded as culturally superior to books, or that a book isn’t fully validated until it’s been made into a film. Well, I totally disagree—I love books. Books are great, you’re never alone with a book, and books are enough. So please indulge me if I don’t answer this question.
11. You’re an incredibly prolific writer. What is your process? Are you currently working on anything?
Funnily enough, I don’t feel prolific at all. But as I said in question nine, I’m currently revisiting Claire Walsh, with the added bonus that I get to revisit my beloved Walsh family, who’ve appeared in five of my novels so far. Claire and her husband decide to take time out from their long marriage—this is a notion that’s currently having a moment. As we’re living longer, our expectations about what we want from marriage seem to be changing. Claire and Adam don’t want to split up but they still have some living they want to do and the current working title is Time Off for Bad Behavior.
My process is I always start with the voice. I usually have a vague idea of what I’d like to write about and I play around in my head with location, age of my character, situation in life, et cetera. Then sooner or later, a voice speaks in my head, usually what feels like an opening sentence. (It rarely survives, but it doesn’t matter—basically it’s a way in.) I write slowly, I proceed at a glacial pace, perfecting as I go. I never have any idea how the book is going to play out. It might sound mad but I let the characters tell me.
I know lots of writers do one breakneck first draft, then go back and write and rewrite until it works. That’s not how it is for me, but there are no rules in writing. Whatever gets the book written is fine with me.
Thank you for your interest, for reading the book, and I very much hope you enjoyed it.