When you read on the cover of Chasing Marian that it is the most anticipated feel-good novel of 2022, your expectations are immediately set on the highest level. Written by four authors, Amy Heydenrych, Qarnita Loxton, Pamela Power and Gail Schimmel. I was familiar with one of the four authors, Gail Schimmel, who wrote Never Tell a Lie, and it left me with wanting more, because I just loved her captivating writing style. What also got my attention was the note that read, if you can guess whom of the authors wrote which character. I am always up for a critical thinking exercise and was aimed and ready with de Bono’s six thinking hats when I opened up the book and started reading.
Four strangers, two cities, one chance online meeting on a Facebook Group. Jess is a yummy mummy of two whose life is slowly unravelling and who has recently separated from her husband, Joe. Ginger is a happily widowed granny with a salty tongue and a wicked sense of humour with two older daughters. Matt is an almost-qualified psychologist, who still lives with his parents in a cottage behind the main house. And Queenie, a librarian from Kensingnton, Cape Town, lives with her sister and has an absent boyfriend and has a secret writing habit. They are all die-hard Marian Keyes fans. And when they hear that Marian is due to visit South Africa to attend a literary festival, they are all desperate to meet her. Together they come up with a mad-cap plan. Will they succeed – or will life intervene?
Before the acknowledgments the authors wrote that that they were in fact all excited when they heard that Marian Keyes was scheduled to visit South Africa. They were all excited at the prospect of being in her company and even becoming besties, when the dreaded COVID hit and we were all basically confined to our houses, which now feels like three years. Mind you it has become our new normal and the sooner most of us got use to it, the better it was for all of us to continue living, continue to exist. Instead of crawling under their beds, their Marian Keys dreams figuratively robbed from under them, the authors decided to write a book, that included four characters whom just like them were die heart fans and desperately wanted make her acquaintance in person.
The first character that we are introduced to is Jess. She comes across as a woman who has had it all. She could even have been one of the cast members for The Real Housewives of Jozi. She is having lunch a Tashas (which has always been on my list of places to visit) and we learn a little bit more about her situation with her husband. She suspects him of cheating on her and he has moved out. Secretly Jess is addicted to Facebook groups and she joins the South Africa Marian Keyes Fan Club. Jess is the first one that initiates conversation on the group. I felt like Jess when she said: ” I’ve always struggled with this sense that I’m not good enough… Like I needed to meet this constantly growing checklist…” I think that this feeling actually grew more intense once I became a mother. Just like Jess in the novel, I did a lot of soul searching to find myself. Once I found that, I felt more empowered and confident, and as readers we see Jess’s growth throughout the book. When I read that Jess was at Woolies and that she bought Diemersfontein Pinotage, I felt even more endeared by this book. We got engaged at Diemersfontein, and the Pinotage is one of my favorites. Also voted as one of the best Pinotage wine in the worlds.
I want to be as witty and “say it like it is” like Ginger when I am that age. From the way she talks about her late husband, it seems that she was completely opposite to him. In a way she went along with all his decisions, despite having her own opinions on matters. When he passes away, she decorates and renovates the house the way she wanted it and that gives her so much power back. I feel like Ginger’s character holds everyone together. She is the motherly figure where the other characters can seek comfort in. It is also great to see how her character evolves and finds true happiness within herself being a mother and being a woman.
Everyone in the book was quite shocked that Matt, a male also enjoyed reading. Again it just showed how society sets the norm, and we have to conform. Just because Matt is a bit reserved and enjoys reading, he has been teased over the years and his family actually thinks that he is gay. With all of the characters, I think I felt closest to Matt. When his Mom, tells him that she needs to see a doctor and might need to have a biopsy, it reminded me so much of my late Mom. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. She underwent chemo and eventually had a mastectomy. Since the mastectomy my Mom had gone for regular check ups every single year and then one day she had a bad fall and fell on her hip. Her Dr told her to do some physio and to drink pain tablets. It only got worse. On my Mom’s 61st birthday in 2016, she had to walk around with a cane. She had a scheduled appointment with her Oncologist and they ran different tests. In the process they discovered that she had a cancerous growth that dislodged when she fell on her hip. She was scheduled for radiation treatment where she spent 3 weeks at the facility. I was about 22 weeks pregnant with our first born. My mom was so excited to go baby shopping with me. She returned home and within two weeks she passed away on my Dad’s 60th birthday. Until today, it all still feels so surreal. In Matt’s case the first Dr told his Mom, not to worry about it, but she went for a second opinion and it was discovered that she had stage 4 cancer. She was in two minds on receiving treatment. Every time I read Matt’s segment in the book, I willed for his Mom to start the treatment, because I know what life is like without your mother. In a sense like the other characters, Matt also needs to discover himself. Instead of proving anything to the world, he had to proof his own valid existence to himself.
Queenie is a librarian by profession and she lives in Kensington with her sister. My first job after graduating was in Kensington, and I remember that I use to travel to work by train with mom in the mornings. I would get off at Kensington and my Mom would continue on to Woodstock where she worked as a machinist in a clothing factory. Queenie’s relationship with her sister reminded me so much of the relationship I have with my sister. The way they interact with each other, is how my sis and I interact. In some ways I too write my own stories and keep it in a folder for that “one day”. I do not even think my hubby knows that I love writing stories. Queenie, reminded me of being younger. At that age where you’ve followed the rules and then one day, you just take a chance. A chance on love that changes your entire being. Maybe I will follow my passion like Queenie one day, for now its to get my PhD (hopefully graduate end of this year); raise my boys (including the oldest one aka hubby).
I loved being able to relate to the situations the characters found themselves in (disclaimer: not the ones where Jess had sex at Tasha’s and then again at the zoo). Shame she had a terrible time being the #looseygoosey. Ginger was adamant and helped Jess get back on track by encouraging her to seek help. The fact that I was also familiar with the names of the eateries, supermarkets and clothing brand names, made this books just so much more endearing. When I started my social media platforms in 2017, I had no idea how powerful the web could be. There are three sides though. The good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s start with the good. Like the characters in the novel, I have made some really great and authentic friendships. Through my platforms I am able to empower women to find their sense of self and confidence again. If it’s through my fashion posts or dancing posts. If I can make one person’s day, by putting a smile on their faces or letting them know that their fears and struggles are normal and that they are not alone. Well then I have served my purpose. But I have to admit, it took me a long time to realise who the fake people were that only wanted to befriend me, because they wanted access to the brands I had formed partnerships with or wanting to engage in gossiping about others. I guess that would be the bad part of it. The ugly part would be the mentality of others that feel they own the social media platforms and brands. Those that have the “you can’t sit with us” mentality and would go through great lengths to break anyone down that they felt threatened by. For me personally, I would like to focus on the good parts and I stay in my lane. Away from toxczidity. I want to create a safe space for my audience, where mutual respect, values, honesty and authenticity is at the forefront.
There are so many lessons that one can take away from this novel. The biggest one for me, is to never ever give up on myself and my dreams, and you will never know the outcome of something if you do not take any risks. I experienced moments of laughing so hard, and moments of bawling my eyes out. In the end, the authors made me feel part of the MK Book Club. I am going to guess that Gail Schimmel, wrote the part of Ginger. Qarnita Loxton, wrote the part of Queenie. Amy Heydenrych wrote the part of Matt and Pamela Power the part of Jess. Now off to get my copy of Marian Keyes latest novel.