books

MAMAMIA BOOK CLUB: 'Grown Ups' is the novel about messy family dynamics you need to read.

Mamamia's Book Club is a series involving a monthly review of a recent read. As we all know, the best part about book clubs is the cheese; unfortunately, we can't offer that virtually. So we've settled for the second best thing – discussion! This week, we review Marian Keyes' Grown Ups. Once you've read our review, we would love you to share your thoughts on the book below via our comments section. 

What a book. What a story. And it’s all topped and tailed by a relatively mundane event, familiar to most of us – the family birthday dinner.

It is a scene many will recognise. Seated at the table are an ostensibly close-knit extended family. But among the hum of polite chit-chat exists eye rolls, sly comments, and ultimately complex relationships that are as muddled as they are captivating. 

Like a block of Jenga, all it would take is for one secret to spill for the rest to be unravelled and the stability of their relationships to tumble in every direction. 

Grown Ups is the latest book by best-selling author Marian Keyes, the brains behind 14 novels, including The Break and Rachel’s Holiday. The premise of Grown Ups is this: there are three brothers with three wives, plus kids from past and present marriages. They live in today’s Ireland and enjoy (or... don’t) a frankly impractical amount of family holidays and dinners.

Marian Keyes is the best-selling author of 14 novels. Image: Getty. 

There are Jessie and Johnny who own and run a successful chain of specialist food shops. When it comes to their extended family, they like to pay for everything – no matter the cost and with little regard to their lack of means to do so. Also, Jessie’s first husband passed away when she was 34 years old, and he happened to be Johnny’s best friend. Complex? Well, a little.

There are Ed and Cara, who are dealing with Cara’s potentially fatal eating disorder. She suffers from bulimia and insists she is in control of her food habits, yet often conceals to her husband and her psychologist the extent of her illness.

ADVERTISEMENT

And then there are the newlyweds, Nell and Liam, who are still getting to know each other after exchanging vows within mere months of first meeting. 

Between them, there are nine children and one cat – quite an affectionate cat at that.

The book explores themes in refreshingly nuanced and often unexpected ways. Among the 633 pages, Marian Keyes manages to not just tour the brewing tensions of a modern-day family, but also discusses issues from period poverty to the experience of an asylum seeker in Ireland. 

The length of the book might turn some readers away, but as I see it, it actually lends itself to gaining a multifaceted understanding of each of the complex characters, for all their flaws and false facades. In Grown Ups, Marian Keyes delicately and empathetically presents her readers with circumstances that are traditionally frowned upon, and makes us see the shades of grey in what we might typically think are black-and-white wrong. 

Side note... Mamamia interviews Australian author Trent Dalton on his best-selling book, Boy Swallows Universe. Post continues below. 

It would be easy to initially be turned away by the amount of main characters at the start. There are a lot of them, and it can be frustrating to keep up with what child is with what parent, and who dislikes who. Thankfully – and crucially for the book’s readability – there’s a family tree diagram provided at the start. I feared I’d be looking at it approximately 633 times. But ultimately, I found it to be an easy and poignant read that is filled with intricate storylines and mini plot lines. 

Russian writer Leo Tolstoy famously said, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

For the Casey clan, that rings true; never mind how common their troubles may be, their situations are so uniquely nuanced. Plus, they don’t exactly know just how unhappy they are. 

Grown Ups is not the page-turner many modern books are known for, but still builds like a crescendo with a loud and glorious finish, before it descends and leaves you wanting just that little bit more. In a book of over 600 pages, it’s rare to want it to keep going, but that’s exactly the feeling I got. What more could you ask for?

It’s the kind of book that six months after reading it you’ll wonder: I hope Jessie and Johnny, Ed and Cara, and Liam and Nell are doing okay today.

Have you read Grown Ups? Do you agree with our review? Disagree? We want to know! Let us know what you thought in the comments section below. 

You can purchase Grown Ups by Marian Keyes on Booktopia. 

Feature Image: Instagram/@emmas.shelf


Sign up for the "Mamamia Daily" newsletter. Get across the stories women are talking about today.



00:00 / ???