Jul 8 2012 3:30pm

Genre Experiment: H&H Blogger Anna Bowling Reads Marian Keyes

Anybody Out There? by Marian KeyesH&H’s bloggers are all avid readers, of course, and each has their favorite genre.

So, of course, we challenged them to read outside of their favorite genre—to read a book, in fact, in a genre they never read in. And we asked another H&H blogger who does read in that genre to choose the best book for the neophyte to read.

We’ll be posting the results of the Genre Experiment as each blogger finishes—or does not finish (DNFs)—their book. Today, H&H blogger Anna Bowling reads Marian Keyes’s Anybody Out There?, recommended by Kate Nagy.

Angsty historicals are my favorites, especially big, sprawling epics where hero, heroine or both go through their own personal hell before finding that well-earned happily ever after, so when asked what sort of book I avoid, the first thing that came to mind was the opposite: contemporary comedy. Kate Nagy recommended Anybody Out There? by Marian Keyes, and suggested that the less I knew about the story going in, the better, so I headed off to the library and dove in completely blind.

My initial impression could best be summed up with “This is a very big book. Can I take that many yuks?” Still, Kate had assured me that parts of the story were incredibly sad, which was enough for angstbunny me to crack the cover. Right off the bat, we meet heroine Anna Walsh, recovering from a traumatic injury, her bed set up in the front room of her mother’s home in suburban Dublin. Okay, Ireland. I can do Ireland. Anna wants to get back to her life, husband and job in New York. Also good. NYC is my favorite place in the world, and I have to agree with Anna’s mother that Anna does seem to have the best job in the world, doing public relations for a high-end cosmetic firm. Which means access to free makeup, which her family pillages mercilessly because, hey, Anna won’t be using it until she recovers from her multiple injuries.

Anna’s family struck me as having a realistic mix of concern and craziness, but as this was the fourth book in a series and I had not read the first three, I did feel like I was out of the loop on in-jokes and established relationships. The one member of Anna’s family we don’t get to meet at this stage is her husband, Aiden, who is not present, and her family won’t even speak his name. I figured out pretty quickly why, which added an extra layer of heartbreak with each of Anna’s attempts to contact him.

Though her family would rather keep her with them, Anna needs to return to her life in New York, though it can’t ever be the same. The gnawing need for normality in the wake of huge life changes felt very true to life and I could believe the extents Anna went to in her attempts to contact Aiden. Emails from home keep Anna abreast of her family’s shenanigans, including her mother’s stakeout of a neighbor whose dog leaves presents on the family’s property, and her private investigator sister’s newest client, an organized crime boss with a romantic streak. Colorful neighbors and members of Anna’s support group keep her from going too far into her dark places, and the story does end on an emotionally satisfying note.

All in all, I’m glad I tried Anybody Out There? and I’m satisfied with the resolution Anna found at the book’s end. Life can be hard, bad things can happen, but with family and friends, we can get through it. I do believe that, and found those sentiments echoed in the pages. Will I be hunting down other books by this author? Probably not, as chick lit in general isn’t my thing, but I’m glad I had a chance to see why Marian Keyes has such wide appeal.

Anna C. Bowling considers writing historical romance the best way to travel through time and make the voices in her head pay rent. She welcomes visitors to her blog, Typing with Wet Nails and to follow her at Twitter.

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1. taragel
I love Marian's books so much. featuring Claire and Rachel are my favorites (Watermelon and Rachel's Holiday, respectively) as well as the stand-alone Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married. She detoured and wrote several books from multiple POVs as well, but the first-person perspective ones are the best. I'm so excited that we'll be getting Helen's book next, and it will be a mystery/PI novel. Helen is a total scene stealer and her POV is bound to be a lot of fun. She's the best of the chick lit writers out there IMO, and does such an amazing job mixing lightness and darkness, tackling heavy themes (i.e. depression, addiction, grief, etc.) with a hilarious, fun approach, yet without ever sounding trivial about serious issues.
2. taragel
EEP. The system ate part of my second sentence! It should say "The first few Walsh sisters novels, featuring Claire and Rachel..." etc.
Anna Bowling
3. AnnaBowling
@taragel, I think Ms. Keyes kept a very good balance between the light and the dark here, which is no easy task. Sounds like the Walsh sisters' fans are in store for a real treat with Helen's book.
Rachel Hyland
4. RachelHyland
Shame on Kate for giving you the fourth book in a series! You were very kind to have stuck this one out; I'm not sure I'd have been able to, once I realised there was plentiful backstory I was missing.

As for Keyes, I have read her Sushi for Beginners and Angels -- both of which I found, abandoned, at airports -- and I agree with you: it was good to see for myself what all the fuss was about, but I've never felt the need to track down her other works. She's like Cecelia Ahern, post-P.S. I Love You, that way.
Anna Bowling
5. AnnaBowling
@RachelHyland, jumping into later books in any series can be tricky, but there was enough of the backstory for me to get the general gist of the other characters' lives, for their function in this story.

Finding books released into the wild is fun, and very kind of the releasers. I am glad I tried this book, as the angst was beautifully done and I can see how Keyes knows how to strike the right balance between funny and angsty to keep her fans happy.
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