Chances is set in a gift shop and embraces tree surgery; Rumours is set in an estate agency.
Freya North is absolutely brilliant at this, finding an occupation for her protagonists, researching that role meticulously, and portraying that occupation plausibly. This puts her in a different class from many other authors rightly or wrongly labelled as 'chick-lit'. For them, the job is either a convenient location to set a romance, a passing irritation, or of no consequence. Cat was the pinnacle, a woman journalist following the Tour de France; other occupations have included clown and jewellery designer. Brilliant to find a writer almost exactly my own age writing about something other than domesticity.
Rumours and Chances are later works, and I'm sorry but they are just not of the same brilliance. Chances was okay, but Rumours really began to get on my nerves. I started making a mental list of Marian Keyes's strengths based on the reading of Freya North. I know it's unfair, and I loved Freya's books long before I discovered Marian.
I felt in both cases her heart wasn't in the jobs. Too simple to portray a gift shop owner or an estate agent. I didn't feel I'd learnt anything, in contrast to her splendidly researched earlier works. But what annoyed me most were the characters.
Marian Keyes' characters are like my friends. They have personality flaws, some of them can be quite horrible, or insensitive, or thick, or self-centred. I don't dislike them as a result. Nor do I love them because of the faults. I accept them faults as they (I hope) accept mine (cue obligatory claim to have none). It's simply what makes us human, and Marian captures perfectly.
Freya, on the other hand, divides people into good people and bad people. Good people have no flaws, and only make mistakes that are later justified as being understandable in context. Bad people have no redeeming virtues.
The only exception are the people who originally appear as bad but are later shown to be misunderstood and become good people, motivated only by noble intentions, and are entirely selfless. I'd like a portrayal where the reader can see that they're decent and can also see that the heroine can't see it. Or see the heroine dithering between "Well, he's very charming and good company" and "He's got a hot temper, we have no interests in common and he keeps changing arrangements at the last minute".
The other thing is that she seems increasingly to use types. Halfway through Rumours, I was bored stupid by the old lady in the up-for-sale house. Posh, out of touch, but magically(!) in touch with a small child and always bloody pontificating. Think Maggie Smith-type role but entirely two dimensional. I found her unbelievable, not least the occasional hints into her vulnerabilities and self-doubt. Also, in Chances, the heroine manages to establish immediate rapport with her boyfriend's small son, who appears to have no emotional problem at all with another woman arriving to replace his dear dead mother. It just didn't seem realistic.
I was very disappointed to read both these books, but especially Rumours. And I'm sad to be writing this, because so many of her previous books were so compelling, entertaining and informative. The previous one before these was Secrets, which has planted Saltburn by the Sea in my mind and heart, and made me want to go there, or somehow recapture the magic of that book.