I am addicted to reading. I get antsy when the Internet is down but I can always pick up a book and read or write with a pen. Reading and writing comfort me. When life is pressing, we seek ways to re-centre ourselves with a view to find a resolution be it a closure or simply a moment of resignation about a situation. Normally a good night’s sleep, eating right and exercising will keep our level of dopamine in check. Exercising is known to increase your levels of serotonin and endorphins, the chemicals necessary for your mental wellbeing. There are times when one is not coping, one may seek relief by consuming stuff ( prescription or otherwise) or partake in activities that will have them end up in a place worse than where they were previously. An addiction becomes a problem when one develops a dependency. But there are cases where one suffers badly from anxiety attack and is stuck in a dark place due to chemical imbalance, hormonal change or for whatever past traumas that have taken root in their mind, hence help and intervention by people who care become necessary.
A couple of months ago, an acquaintance handed me Again Rachel. A friend of hers passed her the book and as she is not much of a reader herself, she thought of me. I am truly delighted to be given the book. Marian Keyes is one of the writers I used to read and I had enjoyed her conversational style of writing and lively narrations. Her narratives are often peppered with humour. Keyes is a lucid story teller and her characters are very well portrayed.
In Again Rachel, Rachel Walsh, is an addiction counsellor at Cloisters a rehabilitation centre where she had been treated for her drug and alcohol addictions before. Years after her split from Luke Costello, she is in a relationship with Quin whom she met at a meditation retreat a couple of years before. When she gets to know that Luke’s mother has passed away, she agonises about whether to go to the funeral. While it is right for her to pay respects to her former mother-in-law, she also has mixed feelings about seeing her ex-husband . She is still very bitter and confused about how and why he had left her at the time when she was in bits after having lost their child. When her marriage had fallen apart , she left New York and returned to Dublin. With help from friends and family, she managed to kick her addictions and is finally at a good place in her forties. She and Luke has not spoken for six years and all she knows is that he has moved to Denver, Colorado. Now that Luke is back in Dublin, she is thrown into an array of emotions that she needs to sort out.
The core of the story is about addictions. Rachel had been to rehab twenty years ago for being too fond of cocaine and other drugs, and she had a relapse years ago. Now that she is clean, she steers clear of all kinds of ‘mood -alterers’ which means no codeine, no occasional Xanax for anxiety and not alcohol even if alcohol had never been a big problem for her before. This is because Rachel is a person who can get addicted to rice cakes, tap water, tofu, nude lip gloss, boiled cauliflower and magnolia paint. In the story, there are ample examples of addicts who are in denial of their addictions and the pains that they cause their loved ones and how they are in danger of destroying their lives. The book is 577 pages and it is not an easy feat. At some point in the story, I find it a little laborious to read about the various addicts and their interactions at Cloisters. The writer has given us some insights into how grief and depression can be the root cause of these addictions and she is masterful in telling stories of Rachel’s charges. Keyes is a skilful storyteller. She draws parallels between Rachel’s recovery process and her patients. As Rachel reassesses her past addictions and confronts her own denial, you know things will pan out for her. The story is full of warmth, compassion and familiar love. Rachel’s sisters and their parents are such a wonderful family. I find Rachel’s mother, Mary hilarious and a delightful character. She has summoned her five daughters to organise her eightieth birthday so Rachel’s capable and beautiful sisters have committee meetings for planning their mother’s ‘surprise’ birthday party to be held at SugarLoaf Inn. When she arrives at the party, balloons fly, whistles are blown and everyone yells ‘ SURPRiSE”.Mammy Mary does an excellent job of looking shocked and delighted.
Marian Keyes is named as the Author of the Year at the British Book Awards for 2022.
In The Expatriates by Janice Y.K.Lee, the author brilliantly weaves a melodrama involving three American women whose lives become intertwined as the story unfolds.
Mercy is Korean American and a Columbia University graduate. She is from Queens and at college, she discovered the different world that her rich college friends live in. Those friends would never come to Queens. ‘She felt herself hardening in college’. Unlike her college friends who have gotten jobs at banks, magazines, PR companies, their way paved by family connections, she is unable to find a career although her grades are just as good and sometimes better. At aged twenty-four, she leaves New York to have a fresh start in Hong Kong. When she was thirteen, her mother went to a fortune-teller to find out about Mercy’s future. ‘Idiot fortune -teller had clucked his tongue at her reading, said that he had rarely seen someone whose life would be so muddled’. Mercy had found the fortune teller’s predictions and as it was written in Korean and Chinese, she took it to a Korean man , a stranger on the street and asked him what it meant. He said to her, it means ‘she is riding a fast horse without a saddle’ and ‘a crow cannot soar like an eagle’.
In Hong Kong, she meets gracious Margaret and her handsome husband Clarke Reade. Mercy is still adrift and she agrees to babysit Margaret’s three kids. Mercy is good with the kids and she is able to play games and read to them. Then when they plan a trip to Korea, Margaret invites Mercy along as she is expected to join Clarke for lunches and dinners and Macy can be their babysitter. Margaret finds that nothing in Hong Kong seems extravagant unlike back home in California she and her ‘fellow new moms had ad infinitum how long to nurse, or why children needed their mothers around all the time’. Outside America, there is widely available help for the more privileged – and in Hong Kong, mostly every expatriate she knows is privileged. Then the unimaginable happens during their trip to Korea. Margaret’s youngest child G goes missing under Mercy’s watch. While Margaret struggles with her shattering loss, Mercy has trouble reconciling her guilt and shame over the incident.
Then there is Hilary who hails from the Bay Area in San Francisco and is haunted by her struggle to have a child with her lawyer husband, David. She spent her early twenties working and then she met David at a friend’s wedding. They have been married for ten years. She is thinking of adopting seven-year-old Julian whom she has met at an orphanage.
As each woman struggles with her own demons, their lives collide. It is cleverly plotted and the story will tug at your heart.
Janice Y.K.Lee is a keen observer of life as an expatriate in Hong Kong. The story is multidimensional and it is an acute portrayal of the men who have been sent by their companies to work in Hong Kong and their wives who have to leave their careers behind and become homemakers. The story also describes subtly the distinctions and the existence of clash of culture, class, race and sex, Lee writes,
‘Is it any wonder, she thinks, that expats become like spoiled rich children, coddled and made to feel as if their every whim should be gratified? These trips to the islands where the average annual wage is the cost of a pair of expensive Italian shoes cast the Western expatriate in the role of the ruler. The locals are the feudal servants, running to obey every whim.”