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Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | General Fiction | Women’s Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Can any of you believe that it was twenty-five years ago that the wonderful Rachel Walsh stole all our collective hearts with the release of Rachel’s Holiday. We were all introduced to The Walsh Family in Marian Keyes’ earlier publication, Watermelon, and then along came Rachel with her own complete story to tell.

‘Funny, sad, headstrong and achingly vulnerable, fun-loving Rachel connected with readers the world over. Ahead of her return in Again, Rachel (17th February 2022), a brand new 25th anniversary edition of Rachel’s Holiday will be released on 9th December 2021′

It is an absolute pleasure to celebrate Rachel, and all her quirks, in advance of both these releases. I was delighted to revisit a book that I had originally read back in the day when I was similar in age to Rachel. Would I love it as much now as I did then I asked myself?

Rachel’s Holiday was originally published in 1997 and became an instant phenomenon, as people across the globe connected with Rachel’s character in so many different ways. Rachel Walsh is one of five sisters who grew up on Dublin’s southside. Their home was noisy and chaotic, with the usual sibling rivalry and parental disagreements that are present in most families. Rachel’s position was in the middle and this always seemed to be an issue for her. Rachel felt different, never good enough, always comparing herself to her sisters’ successes and very aware of her own failures.

As soon as the opportunity arose, Rachel left Ireland behind with her best-friend Brigit, travelling to various parts, before finally settling in New York City into a lifestyle that, in hindsight, was probably not best suited to Rachel’s personality. Rachel saw these glamorous and oh-so-beautiful (and tiny) New York women and convinced herself that, with her height and general stature, she could never truly fit in. Rachel had size eight feet and, growing up, her mother always referred to how tall she was and how it would be difficult to find a man who she could literally look up to. She was described as big-boned and strong, words that in Rachel’s mind transferred to meaning overweight and ungainly.

In order to overcome what she saw as her shortcomings, Rachel dabbled in drugs. Recreational drugs provided her with the confidence to hold her head up high and to be someone else. She partied hard, dated, worked, got fired, partied, dated, worked, got fired, with the same pattern repeating itself over and over again. But then Rachel met Luke. He was handsome, sexy but, in Rachel’s mind, so not cool and she was caught off-guard. Six months into her, at times fraught, relationship with Luke, time was called on Rachel’s New York dream, as she took one too many drugs and was carted off home to Ireland and into rehab.

Rachel left New York under the illusion that this rehab centre would be like a spa, with a gym and a jacuzzi and some hot celebrities thrown in. She reckoned that this break might be good for her, a holiday that she herself could never afford, but nothing could have been further from the truth. On arrival Rachel was confused but prepared to be a little open-minded about the days ahead until the finger of therapy began to point in her direction. From denial, to anger, to acceptance, this is Rachel Walsh’s story.

There is a very simple reason why Marian Keyes is the beloved author of many the world over. Marian Keyes writes from the heart, with her own effusive personality bursting through. Rachel’s Holiday is like a warm hug, a trip down memory lane, while also being a reminder about how incredible Marian Keyes writing can be. This is NOT a fluffy book. Rachel’s Holiday explores many dark and emotive themes, including addiction, in all its forms, self-loathing, family dynamics and relationships. It is a compelling and candid read as we travel alongside Rachel on this extremely heart-breaking journey. Rachel Walsh is the voice of many young women who struggle daily with life decisions and that need to fit in with society’s expectations. Rachel Walsh is very self-deprecating with her life spinning out of control. Rachel Walsh is lost.

Marian Keyes writes with experience and a truthfulness that captivates. Her renowned humour filters through her words making every reader laugh and cry simultaneously. Rachel’s Holiday is a big read at nearly 600 pages but amazingly, on turning the final page, you will be left wanting more. And Marian Keyes listened to her readers, with the forthcoming sequel Again, Rachel being very exciting news indeed. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Rachel and am really looking forward to seeing what happened over the last twenty-five years. In the meantime I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this anniversary edition of Rachel’s Holiday and prepare to be entertained and bewitched by this truly poignant and engrossing tale.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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