Fashion and Fiction: The Sublime Marian Keyes

Just before the Clothes in Books Italian holiday, I was lucky enough to attend one of the marvellous Fashion and Fiction events at the V&A Museum in London. Organizer Rosie Goldsmith interviewed Irish author Marian Keyes about her books, about fashion, about clothes in books – and about the TV programme Strictly Come Dancing. It was a great and joyous evening: Marian is obviously just as funny and nice in real life as she comes over in her books. For more on the Fashion and Fiction series, see their Facebook page or follow Rosie on Twitter.

These are my very bad pics of Marian Keyes signing books after the event:

The Break 1The Break 3

Her books Mystery of Mercy Close and Making it Up as I go Along have featured on the blog in the past.

The new book is excellent… and full of wonderful clothes descriptions. And, as it is Dress Down Sunday on the blog, of underwear.

The Break by Marian Keyes

The Break 8
published 2017

‘Get my Finery dress!’

Kiara pulls out an ivy-dark, high-necked, ruffle-bodiced midi, as sexy as a sack. Hugh has never minded me shunning slinky body-con. He’s actively steered me towards shin-length dresses with statement sleeves.

The Break 6The Break 7

[Later] My suitcase is mostly lingerie sets. In a reversal of most relationships, I’m only bringing out the big guns now. Asos were doing these fasbulous 50s-style knicker, a homage to the Dolce & Gabbana delights, all high-waisted lace-and-silk with built-in suspender belts and matching bras, the type you put on just so they’ll be removed quickly.

commentary: I found a very interesting review (recommended by Rosie Goldsmith) of a much earlier Keyes novel, Angels, here:
Keyes is a writer of romantic comedy who specialises in catastrophe and damaged lives… Indeed, Keyes is a kind of Chekhov of the abandoned woman, eloquent and inventive about women's feelings of rejection, loss and desperation, and their ceremonies of recovery.
And if that makes you think the books are just chicklit, or gloomy and depressing, then that is your loss. Keyes is a very funny writer, and she is a mistress of the recognizable detail – the make of the dress above, the family life described with such joy throughout, the passing comments:
It’s simply human nature – we mistakenly think there are only so many disasters to be allocated, and if it’s happening to someone else, we’ll be spared.
And she has some interesting and serious things to say in her so-very-readable books, and she has flatout great opinions about everything.

In this book, Amy thinks she had a good marriage with Hugh: but it turns out he wants a break, a six-month timeout during which he will travel and find himself – and perhaps sleep with other women. Amy is left at home with her job, her approximately three daughters, and her close, loving and maddening family. During the course of the book she curses her husband, deals with all kinds of problems, thinks hard about what led up to the current situation, and wonders who she might meet during the break. She works hard at her job in PR (and we find out a lot about the secrets of the business). And of course she wears wonderful clothes:

The Break 9
I was hurrying through Soho, dressed in a pair of dark blue clam-diggers, pointy pink stilettos and a button-through, candy-striped blouse…

I loved every minute of this book: it was funny, thought-provoking and informative by turns. I genuinely didn’t know how it was going to end up, whether Hugh would come back, whether their marriage was going to survive. And although I knew a lot about the abortion situation in Ireland, I learned more through a plot strand which I hope will be widely-read and discussed.

The underwear is by ASOS and the green dress is Finery – though sexier than the one Amy actually has I think. It is a very distinctive fashion label, and I have an admission to make: While searching their pages for a picture for this blogpost, I found a dress I rather like for myself, and it is winging its way to me now….


  1. Lovely to see you back, Moira! And lucky you to have had such a great experience at the V & A. The book sound awfully funny. And it sounds, well, real, if I can put it that way. Those down-to-earth stories can be fantastic, and I'm glad you enjoyed this one.

    1. Thanks Margot! I liked my holiday, but it's nice to be back.
      I think sometimes people underestimate authors who are fun to read - but I know you would never make that mistake!

  2. Marian Keyes is a bit like Liane Moriarty, in that their books could be dismissed as "chick-lit", but actually they're really well written, with utterly believable characters,and they deal with serious important topics while also being very funny.

    1. Yes! That's a perfect summing-up of both of them.

  3. I still have Watermelon to read, which I hope to do soon, and then I will either move on to the next book in the Walsh family saga or The Mystery of Mercy Close.

    The Break sounds like it could be good, I like books about families.

    1. All her books I've read have been about families! I've been diving around in her books, not at all reading them in order, which actually is fine.

  4. I am delighted to read this post. Marian Keyes is such an under valued writer who not only is laugh-out loud funny, but also is unafraid to cover serious topics with great perception and wisdom. I love her books.

    I cannot understand why she is dismissed so readily as a "chick-lit" writer - and, more importantly, why is being a chick-lit writer a pejorative term?

    I fear I am having a Henry Tilney moment, having just listened to Northanger Abbey ("only a novel ...")

    I am sorry if people miss out reading Marian Keyes through some misapprehension about chick lit.


    1. Exactly! You are so right, and it has always seem odd that being funny and entertaining seems to rule authors out from being taken seriously. It should be the other way round! And, she does write well about important subjects.

  5. How can one hurry in stilettos?

    1. Oh yes you can! When I was a young working woman I wore heels everywhere, and although I am aghast at the idea now, I managed perfectly well. One of my colleagues once memorably said 'Here comes Moira, tittuping down the corridors of power', a phrase which stuck to me...

    2. Once upon a time (1981?) I bought myself a pair of what were then known as "hump-me" shoes but I think if I had tried to move any faster than a stroll in them it would have been disastrous. But then, I've always been fairly clumsy.

  6. Wearing high heels was the only area in which I was ever not clumsy - and even that superpower has left me now...


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