In the film Private Benjamin, Goldie Hawn naively believes the upbeat Army recruiting posters and thinks she has found an easy out of her upcoming wedding. In reality, she is confronted with early wake-up calls, harsh discipline and punishing physical exercises, causing her to wail, "There's been a mistake -- I'm in the
The heroine of this novel, Rachel Walsh, finds herself in a similar situation albeit in a different setting. Rachel is a 27-year-old drug addict. Okay, she's not REALLY a drug addict. As she says,
They said I was a drug addict. I found that hard to come to terms with
-- I was a middle class, convent-educated girl whose drug use was strictly recreational. And surely drug addicts were thinner?.I wasn't thin. Instead, I was doomed for people always to describe me by saying, "She's a big girl." Then they always added really quickly, "Now, I'm not saying she's fat." The implication being that if I was fat, I could at least do something about it.
True drug addict or not, Rachel finds herself headed for The Cloisters, an Irish inpatient drug rehabilitation program, after she accidentally overdoses on drugs in the New York City apartment that she shares with her best friend. Rachel insists she doesn't have a serious drug problem, but she agrees to The Cloisters because she's heard that plenty of Irish celebrities go there to "dry out." She figures it will be an easy way to get a free holiday, complete with massages, spas and health food. And at least her family -- her clueless parents, two older and two younger sisters -- will get off her back.
To Rachel's surprise, The Cloisters turns out to be a run-down facility with a noticeable lack of luxuries and celebrities. Instead, she has to deal with early morning kitchen duty, cooking class, and a confrontational drug rehab counselor who has little tolerance for the addicts' denial. Like Goldie Hawn, Rachel must be in the wrong rehab center!
The ultimate horror of The Cloisters is when ISOs -- Involved Significant Others such as parents or spouses -- come to group meetings to confront their loved ones about the details of their addiction. Rachel is in luck there. She's been living in New York for years, so her parents will have few horrible details to impart. And surely Luke, her ex-boyfriend, won't bother to fly across the Atlantic just to rat on her, will he? Who
needs him, anyway -- just because he was kind, sexy and funny. He was totally uncool and quite dreadful at the end, breaking up with Rachel just because she liked to have a little fun sometimes. There are plenty of other guys to tumble into bed with -- in fact, there's fellow Cloisters resident Chris, who is handsome and attentive.
Marian Keyes mixes in her trademark wisecracking humor with a dose of seriousness as she painstakingly details Rachel's two month stay at The Cloisters, during which she wages a war of denial that ultimately is doomed to fail. She intersperses Rachel's recovery with reminisces about her relationship with Luke, from its inauspicious beginnings when Rachel made fun of Luke for his total lack of cool, to its abrupt ending.
When Rachel finally admits her addiction, she still has to find a way to survive in the real world without drugs, an unthinkable concept just a few months ago.
Rachel's Holiday is funny, insightful and powerful. Readers may not be able to believe that one woman could be so thickheaded when it comes to her addiction, but they will end up rooting for Rachel to make it nonetheless because of her inner sweetness and insecurity that lies underneath the chic facade. The reasons behind Rachel's addiction are realistically portrayed without any easy excuses.
Unlike Keyes' previous novels, Watermelon and Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, Rachel doesn't start out with the wrong man and end up with the right one. She has the right one all along but has to learn to appreciate him and realize that her excuses for not admitting her true feelings for him were shallow and insignificant. Although I must admit, I might have had a hard time dealing with Luke's leather pants and the Led Zeppelin on the answering machine too.
At 600 plus pages, the novel is a bit long but well worthwhile. The frequent use of "wanker," "lickarse," "eejit" and other Irish derogatory terms is worth the investment just for the entertainment value. Rachel's Holiday is a comedy about a very serious subject; it's also Keyes' strongest work to date.