How do you follow on from the success of a novel like Rachel's Holiday? You don't – that was what Marian Keyes always told fans. But 25 years later, the Irish author has had a change of heart, much to the delight of her readers.
So what's up with Rachel Walsh these days? Fans will remember that back in the '90s, her life was a mess. But a spell in rehab transformed everything. These days she has love, family, a great job as an addiction counsellor, she even gardens. But with the sudden reappearance of a man she'd once loved, her life wobbles.
Read an extract from Again, Rachel, which is one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the year.
Around five pm, I was in the office typing up my daily notes when my phone rang. As soon as I saw who was calling, my heart nearly stopped. What on earth . . . ? Joey. Luke’s Joey? Why was he ringing me? I thought we’d agreed.
But mixed with the shock was curiosity. My heart was pounding in my ears as I answered. ‘Joey?’
‘Rachel? Yeah, listen, I’ve a bit of news.’
My hands were shaking so much that I needed to sit on them. Had that really happened? Had Joey just called me? Momentarily I worried that I’d imagined it.
‘You all right?’ Maurie gave me a sharp look.
‘Mmmmm.’ My lips felt numb. ‘Fine. Just . . . stuff.’
Silently, I nodded. I hadn’t felt this unravelled in – God, I literally couldn’t remember when.
I needed to talk to someone, but my sister Claire was the only one who’d engage with me properly on this, I realized.
Then – spookily – at that very moment a WhatsApp arrived from Claire, Need to talk. Dilemma.
I replied, I’ve a dilemma too. Calling a summit for 8pm tonight. You round?
Yep, she said, My dilemma a private one, tho. Need a presummit with you.
Our family summits usually took place in Mum and Dad’s house because they lived equidistant from my sisters and me. But a sneaky pre-summit was agreed for Claire and me for seven forty-five.
Then I WhatsApped the Walsh family group, Mum’s, tonight, 8pm. I need advice.
My next act was to call Mum, to check she’d be home. Even if she wasn’t, we’d still meet there, eat her biscuits and frighten Dad. She greeted me with, ‘Rachel? Good of you to ring. I could have been lying in a crumpled heap on the hall floor, dead for four days, with not a person to notice I was missing.’
I called Mum daily and so did Margaret. Mum lived with another adult – Dad. She played bridge approximately twelve times a week and about four hours each day were spent on the phone, complaining about things, with her pals. She was healthier and more sociable than me.
‘Are you in this evening?’ I asked.
‘Why?’ She was instantly suspicious. ‘What do you want? Someone’s always looking for something. But hear me now! I’m not minding your dog, I’m not hemming your skirt, I’m not babysitting your children and you can’t have my car. I’ve a life too, you know.’
‘Advice is what I’m looking for.’
‘Buy the thing.’
‘What thing? No, Mum, that’s not – ’
‘Just buy the thing, whatever it is. Life is short. That’s my advice.’
‘I’ll be there about eight.’
Foolishly, I arrived on time for Claire and parked five houses down from Mum and Dad’s. Seven minutes later, Claire’s car bounded over the speed bumps. Even before she came to an abrupt, ear-piercing halt, her electric window was whining open and her stylish, oyster-grey nails were beckoning me over.
She refused to ever get into my car. The heating didn’t work and it made her depressed.
Scuttling through the drizzle, trying to protect my hair, I slid into her warm, fragrant, leather-lined Audi. ‘Lovely smell,’ I said.
‘Diptyque,’ she said. ‘Tuberose. They do air-fresheners for cars now.’
That was Claire, all over. Right at the front of the fashion vanguard. Ever-questing, snuffling out new brands – skincare, handbags, lifestyle. Devoted to Porter magazine! Never afraid to spend money!
She gave me a quick hug. ‘Am I late? God, I am. So, are you OK?’
Her hair, in a fashionable shade of mouse brown, was in a fabulous, falling-down French twist, her skin glowed and although I didn’t know what age she was currently claiming to be, she looked good for it.
‘Your face.’ I took a second look. ‘Where’d your pores go? It’s amazing.’
‘Had a thing done.’
She was always having things done. Her favourite phrase was, ‘I’m not going down without a fight.’ (That, or ‘Make it a strong one.’) She deserved to look as great as she did. She had a personal trainer and – crucially – showed up for her sessions, instead of texting ten minutes before the start, pretending she had a sore throat. (Which was what I’d kept doing the few times I’d signed up.) The only carb to cross her lips was vodka and she was susceptible to ridiculous, very expensive vitamins, which she bought from Goop. Her one blind spot was a fondness for fake tan but, on that matter, she couldn’t be reasoned with. Everyone has their weakness.
She was so invested in her youthful look that she didn’t like spending time in public with Margaret, who was younger than her, because Margaret had ‘aged gracefully’ (according to Margaret). Or, ‘gone to hell, entirely’ (according to Claire).
Their battleground was Margaret’s hair. Margaret stopped colouring it a few years ago but she was the real winner because it was now a really cool silver colour. She actually looked better than she had in her twenties.
‘Did it hurt?’ I asked Claire. ‘The thing you had done?’
‘Oh Christ, yeah! Even after six co-codamol.’
And there you had at least two of the differences between Claire and me: I too would like the poreless skin, but I wasn’t prepared to suffer for it. Instead, I spent a fortune on serums, doing constant ongoing research. It was one of my many micro-obsessions.
The tragedy in all of this was that our second youngest sister, Anna, had The Best Job in The World, an executive at McArthur On The Park, a PR company which repped some of the most exciting skincare on the planet.
In practical terms, it meant that we had glorious, giddymaking access to free products. And even so, I still couldn’t stop buying things. Free stuff is always lovely. But nothing is as alluring as New and Exciting. Or More.
The second difference was that Claire mood-altered with happy abandon and never developed a dependency: she was an enthusiastic drinker and had a whole suite of pills at her fingertips.
Me though? I’d been to rehab twenty years ago for being too fond of cocaine and other drugs. While it was the best thing that had ever happened to me, and these days I lived a normal, happy life, I had to steer clear from any ‘moodalterers’. Which meant no codeine, no occasional Xanax for anxiety, nothing at all – not even alcohol.
This baffled my sisters and mum because alcohol hadn’t been a big problem for me back in the day, it had been all the other stuff. But I was a person who could get addicted to rice cakes. To tap water. To tofu, magnolia paint, The One Show, Coldplay, nude lip gloss, boiled cauliflower – anything. No matter how bland, how unremarkable, I could get addicted to it. So, no alcohol for Rachel.
‘How’re you bearing up?’ Claire asked.
‘We’ll save it until we’re inside. Tell me what’s going on with you.’
She pressed her lips together. ‘You know Adam?’
The man she’d been with for twenty-three years? ‘Er . . .’
‘And you know our friends, Piet and Beatriz?’
‘Mmmm.’ They were fairly new but Claire and Adam seemed to see a lot of them. They were a bit flashy. Very Claire. No offence meant.
‘So, turns out that they’re swingers.’
Oh, here we go. The real surprise was that Claire hadn’t taken up swinging much sooner. Valiantly, I said, ‘No judgement.’ My personal brand was ‘In Recovery But Still Great Fun’; it was important to seem breezy about all lifestyle choices in case I stopped being invited places. People were already uncomfortable around me when they wanted to get hammered and I was sitting there, nursing a Diet Coke. I took a lot of care to never seem disapproving.
But the truth was that I had a good deal of judgement here. Based entirely on the fact that I wouldn’t like to swing with Piet – he was too big, he shaved his head and he wore chunky gold rings.
‘They want to, you know, swing with us. Beatriz fancies Adam and Piet fancies me.’
Well, they were all adults.
‘Piet wants to date me. And Beatriz would, yeah, date Adam.’
Dating? I’d visualized swinging as a more generalized sort of thing, that they’d all be flubbing round together, like kids in a ball pit. But dating? That sounded a lot more . . . intimate.
Unless ‘dating’ just meant ‘riding’?
‘Piet suggested it to Adam. Adam told him to sling it. But I’d, you know . . . I think I want to.’
‘You can’t make Adam swing if he doesn’t want to.’
‘. . . yeeeahh. Maybe I should just have a thing with Piet? He’s always giving me hot stares and saying things like, “If I didn’t know that Adam would throttle me . . .” It’s sexy.’
‘Having a thing with Piet is different from swinging.’ Then, ‘Claire, are you sure you want to be a swinger? It sounds to me that you just fancy Piet.’
She exhaled. ‘I do really fancy Piet. On the mercifully rare occasions I have to have sex with Adam, I pretend it’s Piet.’
Extracted from Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes, on shelf from 1 February.
What makes you laugh?
My husband, my mother, my sisters, Irish people in general.
What makes you angry?
Trump makes me spitting mad – just hearing his voice makes me want to tear my skin off.
Your own most annoying habit:
I overtalk things, I overthink things, I catastrophise.
Krompir – it’s Serbian for potato. Good, isn’t it?
Thing you know now that you wish you’d known in your 20s:
Everyone is faking it to some degree.
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