Sunday, June 14, 2009

Title Forty Three: Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes

Rachel Walsh, the middle sister of the Dublin Walsh clan, is living the glam life in New York City, rooming with her best friend Brigit and enjoying a passionate relationship with the sexy Luke Costello. Sure, she likes to party a little much, but isn't coke the NYC version of coffee? And Valium is no big deal - she just needs it to come down. As for the (high-dose and illegally prescribed) painkillers, well, cramps are the scourge of every woman's life, aren't they? Rachel doesn't get out of hand any more than her friends. When they get on her case, she just thinks they need to loosen up a bit. And if she can't hold onto a job, that's not her fault, because everyone knows bosses are pricks. And maybe she owes her friends a fair bit of money, but we all get in a pinch sometimes.

Until the morning Rachel wakes up in the hospital after the agony of having her stomach pumped. It seems she took a bit too much coke the night before and, desperate to come down and get some sleep so she could go to her shitty job the next day (she has been calling out sick a bit too much lately) she may have overdone it on the Valium. No one will listen when she protests that it wasn't a suicide attempt, and in short order she finds herself packed off to an Irish rehab facility called The Cloisters; Brigit is no longer speaking to her and Luke has ditched her. No matter; loads of celebs have been there and Rachel is almost looking forward to two months' stay in a posh facility, getting massage and seaweed wraps and eating fresh fruit and doing aromatherapy. Until she gets there, that is, and realizes that she's just a step above institutionalized.

What follows is an account, both wrenching and darkly funny, of Rachel's coming to terms with the fact that she is a serious addict. Horrified by the people around her, Rachel steadfastly believes that it's all a mistake, until one day she can't hide from the truth anymore and everything around her crumbles. Your heart breaks for her as she realizes that she's anesthetized herself from life and alienated everyone who ever cared about her, that her self-esteem is shit, and that her life is a wreck. She has to break to get stronger, and Keyes does such a great job with the material that it's poignant and true and slightly horrifying while still maintaining a slightly funny edge.

The ending isn't rosy, but it is quietly satisfying, and Rachel's Holiday is a solid installation in the lives of the Walsh sisters and in Keyes' body of work as a whole.

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