Amy’s husband Hugh isn’t really leaving her.
At least, that’s what he promises. He is just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. For six-months Hugh will lose himself in south-east Asia, and there is nothing Amy can say or do about it.
Yes, it’s a mid-life crisis, but let’s be clear: a break isn’t a break up – yet . . .
It’s been a long time since Amy held a briefcase in one hand and a baby in the other. She never believed she’d have to go it alone again. She just has to hold the family together until Hugh comes back.
But a lot can happen in six-months. When Hugh returns, if he returns, will he be the same man she married? And will Amy be the same woman?
Because falling in love is easy. The hard part – the painful, joyous, maddening, beautiful part – is staying in love. (Goodreads)
The book is all about the marriage of Amy and Hugh, who live in an Irish suburb along with their family of three grown up girls; Niamh, Kiara and Sophie. Amy had given up on love before she met Hugh, having suffered a messy divorce from Niamh’s father and vowing never to let a man into her heart again. Even with a child in tow, Hugh managed to sweep her off her feet and made her believe that she’d found one of the good ones, successfully building a stable family home and being a rock that she can depend on.
However, all that is set to change, with Hugh having gone through an emotional upheaval with the deaths of both his father and best friend in the space of a few months. He has been depressed and unhappy, with Amy hoping that this is just a phase that will pass with time. She is definitely not anticipating what comes next, with Hugh telling her that he wants a six month break to go travelling and see everything that he wished he’d seen in his youth. During this six months he wants to consider himself as a free agent, which means that if he meets someone he won’t hold back, but he’s not actively looking for sex.
Amy is understandably shocked at this and begs him to reconsider, having no idea what they’ll tell the girls, let alone what friends and family will think. She sympathises with his loss, but struggles to come to terms with Hugh leaving her, especially when he expects them to pick straight back up when he returns. Instead, she throws herself into her work and remembers that she is on a break too, starting to wonder if she is capable of some harmless flirting of her own. With her day job as a publicist taking her to London for two days a week, she has ample opportunity to meet someone, but is she really ready to commit adultery?
I became engrossed in the plot of this book, as Amy is such a compelling character and so easy to relate to with her easy Irish charm. Her suburban life is turned upside down in a matter of days, and we see her going from a sorry, crying state to a position of strength as she decides not to let it bring her down. Along the way we become wrapped up in Amy’s family and the dramas that ensue in Hugh’s absence, as we cope with all manner of events from teenage pregnancy to video blog stardom, not to mention her aging mother going out on the town. I thought that there was plenty going on to keep you hooked, especially with everything being so character driven and homely.
This emphasis on family was at the heart of the book and defined who Amy was as a character, always worrying more about everyone else’s needs than she does about her own. With Hugh gone it gives her time to establish what she really wants, and embarks upon a dangerous game of flirtation with a previous work connection. It makes her feel revered and wanted, as she craves the attention but is reluctant to take it to the next level, never having thought herself capable of a casual fling before. What follows is an exploration of morality and desire, as Amy tries to take charge of her own life whilst balancing the needs of her family and her conscience.
The book is almost entirely female oriented, with the male characters having little involvement or influence over the girls left behind. Despite this, we continually see a different side to Hugh via the flashbacks to when he and Amy first got together. He broke down her barriers and showed her that there are decent men in the world, ones who won’t abandon her and her children. He stuck around and they built a family, making you consider whether a lifetime of tender, shared moments can compensate for his present six month absence.
A complex novel that poses many questions about what a marriage really is and how far that bond can be pushed, I thought Marian Keyes depicted the dynamics of a busy, modern family beautifully. We come to appreciate what both characters mean to each other and wonder if they can ever resolve their differences, and question if it’s possible for the love they share to evolve or if it’s simply lost for good. I would call this novel bittersweet in many ways, and I found that I didn’t root for either outcome, appreciating that their lives could go any which way and they would still survive. I loved this emphasis on characters and their power to drive the plot, rather than needing any dramatic bombshell to create tension. I highly enjoyed my first Marian Keyes novel, and look forward to reading another.
A homely, heart-warming novel about family relationships and what it means to be husband and wife, I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of this Irish couple and their shared history. The book follows a realistic pattern of life’s ups and downs, as Amy is left to cope alone in Hugh’s absence and realises what it is that she wants from life. Thought-provoking and relatable, this book will tug directly on your emotions until the last page.