Marian Keyes shares her story of Alzheimer's disease

Marian Keyes
Marian Keyes, bestselling Irish novelist, at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival in 2016. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

When you read one of Marian Keyes books you’ll notice they are a whole family affair.

The Irish author of 13 novels, including Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Sushi for Beginners and This Charming Man writes not only about the main characters, but deep into the lives of that character’s siblings, parents and children. Her latest book, The Break, is no different.

Read more: The Break is Marian Keyes at her sparkling best.

Days off be like….. . . . . #thebreak #mariankeyes #sendthekidsoutside #metime

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Speaking to Starts at 60, Keyes says it’s definitely intentional.  With a close family, four siblings, three of whom still live near her in Dublin, all married with kids, she doesn’t recreate them as characters in her books but tries to include the chaos and fun of their gatherings.

“Every Friday we go back to my mothers,” Marian Keyes says. “I love the messy energy. It just fills me up.”

Another thing she did include in her latest book was the topic of Alzheimer’s’ disease, after her own personal experience. Her father has been diagnosed with it.

“It breaks my heart. It was far worse in the beginning because I was the only one who could see something was wrong.”

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With her mother the main care-giver for her father, Keyes said she’s seen her blossom, and become more independent.

“She become sassier, far braver in the world. Irish mothers of her generation are self sacrificing, Now she’s still second on the list, dad is first, but she needs her own time to be able to care for her husband.” That’s where the siblings come in, with each having their own part in helping with her father, to also give her mother some time to herself. “Before she was very meek. Now she’s like “right, I need you on Monday,” Keyes laughed.

This part of life is another theme Keyes has included in her new book. 

“I just like the idea that you are never too old to change, or to find a new way of living.”

Read more: Marian Keyes: Taking a break from a marriage can be a good thing

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While Keyes books are often thought of as women’s fiction and humorous tales of family life, there are often darker backstories in them. Over the years she’s written about alcoholism, depression, infidelity and abortion, and says she’s done that on purpose too.

“I want to write about something meaningful and something that impacts on our lives, but I don’t want to sadden people so much that they stop reading about it.”

Humour was a survival tool to Keyes herself, who’s been through some of those dark times personally, including a battle with alcohol and depression, so she’s sharing that too.

“I’ve used humour to get through the worst of times.”

However, she didn’t feel that she’s particularly funny, but she does come from a ‘funny’ background.

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“I think it’s an Irish thing. My mother is hysterical, my sister could be a stand up comedian. Irish people are funny. If there could be an Olympic sport for funniness we’d take the gold, every time.”

Quare rotary phone in my villa room 😕

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The Break is initially about characters Amy and Hugh, a seemingly happily married couple until Hugh announces he wants to take a break from the relationship. Not just a holiday apart, an actual break for six months while he travels and explores his options. A tough topic indeed. Despite the tough topics in this and all her books, one thing you are guaranteed to always find in her books is a happy ending. 

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While this book is getting great reviews, Keyes is not likely to pay much attention to that. She’s admitted she doesn’t like to read them, even the good ones. “It wrecks my head, even if it’s positive. Bad reviews are just painful.”

In the early parts of her career Keyes and her husband Tony found the perfect way for dealing with bad reviews though, back in the days when they were published in the newspaper.

“Tony and I used to put the newspaper on the floor and dance on the bad review. That was always enjoyable.”

Which is your favourite Marian Keyes book?