Monday, 15 February 2016
Making it up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes
[The author is talking about her days as a beauty columnist]
Then I got a gig doing a make-up column, and to this very day I still say it’s the nicest thing that ever happened to me. I swear to God, you have no idea! Free make-up began arriving at the house in the PEOLs (Padded Envelopes of Loveliness)…
Overnight, the arrival of the postman flipped from being something to dread – bills and strange requests and that sort of thing – to something to anticipate. If he range the bell, it was a really good day – it meant that he had a Padded Envelope of Loveliness that was too big to be shoved through the letter box…
I hit a rough patch when I worried that loving make-up was incompatible with being a feminist, but I’ve eventually made my peace with it.
However, as we know, all good things come to an end and eventually the magazine I was writing for folded and the Padded Envelopes of Loveliness stopped arriving. (Ten years on, thinking about it still gives me a stabbing pain in my sternum. ) However, I stayed passionately interested in all aspects of beauty, getting particularly animated by anything officially ‘New and Exciting’
commentary: In 2013 I discovered Marian Keyes with the wonderful Mystery of Mercy Close – it was one of my best books of that year – and I explained in the blogpost how I had snobbishly never got round to her before. This new book is a collection of her first-person true-life pieces over the years, and it confounds any attempt to describe it. It is hilariously funny, and she has the most delightful confiding manner with her readers. The pieces are grouped by theme (beauty, family, Twitter), so they travel all over the past 10 or 15 years of her life. You hear about her close eccentric Irish family. Everything sounds honest and real: and in the middle of it all, or rather, as she goes along, she tells you about her 20s lost to alcohol, her depression, her reliance on medication, her breakdown. She is the least self-pitying person you could imagine, and the whole story is simultaneously devastating and tremendously heart-warming.
By the end of the book – which I raced through, I couldn’t stop reading it – you feel you know her and her family well. It’s rather like reading really good Christmas letters and emails from an old friend. Surprisingly, as her books are very well-written and well-structured, the pieces are very casual, they start and stop wherever she feels like, and she has just thrown everything in here without editing or pruning. Which is fine. And – she must be amazingly rich from her 23-million-books-sold, but she never makes you feel either that she is pretending not to be, OR that she has any sense of entitlement or luxury. Honestly, she must be able to afford any makeup or anything else that she wants, but her description of the excitement of getting goody bags, the search for nice shoes, the delight at getting a bargain – all are completely real and convincing.
I loved this book: the characters were like those in her books, and I felt it helped me to understand better the various health problems that she has, in a way that more serious books would not. I thought it was a work that added to the joy of life, but also to the honesty, kindness and warmth of life – that might not make sense, but I think no-one who read it could disagree.
The lovely treats above (including drink that Keyes would not have) are courtesy of EW.