The Woman Who Stole My Life: A Novel

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9780143109358: The Woman Who Stole My Life: A Novel

International bestselling author Marian Keyes is back with a hilarious novel about finding the life—and love—you may not have been expecting
 
In her own words, Stella Sweeney is just “an ordinary woman living an ordinary life with her husband and two teenage kids,” working for her sister in their neighborhood beauty salon. Until one day she is struck by a serious illness, landing her in the hospital for months.
 
After recovering, Stella finds out that her neurologist, Dr. Mannix Taylor, has compiled and published a memoir about the illness in Stella’s voice. Her discovery comes when she spots a photo of the finished copy in an American tabloid—and it’s in the hands of the vice president’s wife! As her relationship with Dr. Taylor gets more complicated, Stella struggles to figure out who she was before her illness, who she is now, and who she wants to be while relocating to New York City to pursue a career as a newly minted self-help memoirist.
 
Funny, fast-paced, and honest, Keyes’s latest novel is full of her trademark charm and wisdom and is sure to delight her many fans.
 
Praise for The Woman Who Stole My Life:
 
“[A] brilliantly funny new romance . . . Keyes’s writing is not just highly entertaining but strangely uplifting.” —Sunday Express (London)
 
Praise for Marian Keyes:
 
“Keyes’s witty women, . . . humorous writing style, and uplifting tone have become beloved by readers across the globe.” —Chicago Tribune

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About the Author:

Marian Keyes is the internationally bestselling author of more than ten novels and two autobiographical works. Several of her novels have been adapted for television and film. She was born in Limerick in 1963, and brought up in Cavan, Cork, Galway, and Dublin; she spent her twenties in London, and lives now in Dún Laoghaire with her husband, Tony.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

 

Can I make one thing clear—no matter what you’ve heard, and I’m sure you’ve heard plenty—I’m not a full-blown karma denier. It might exist, it might not, like how on earth would I know? All I’m doing is giving my version of events.

However, if karma does exist, I’ll say one thing for it, it’s got a fantastic PR machine. We all know the “story”: karma is running a great big ledger in the sky where every good deed done by every human being is recorded and at some later stage—the time to be of karma’s choosing (karma is cagey that way, plays its cards close to its chest)—karma will refund that good deed. Maybe even with interest.

So we think if we sponsor youths to climb a hill to raise money for the local hospice, or if we change our niece’s nappy when we’d rather stab ourself in the head, that at some point in the future something good will happen to us. And when something good does happen to us, we go, Ah, that’ll be my old friend karma, paying me back for my erstwhile good deed. “Hey, thanks, karma!”

Karma has got a string of credits the length of the Amazon, when in fact I suspect karma has been doing the conceptual version of lounging around on the couch in its underpants watching Sky Sports.

Let’s take a look at karma “in action.”

One day, four and a half years ago, I was out driving in my car (a cheapish Hyundai SUV). I was moving along in a steady stream of traffic and up ahead I saw a car trying to get out of a side road. A couple of things told me that this man had been trying to get out of this side road for quite a while. Fact A: the man was bent over his steering wheel in an attitude of weary, imploring frustration. Fact B: he was driving a Range Rover and simply by dint of the fact that he was driving a Range Rover, everyone was going to think, Ah, look at him there, the big, smug, Range Rover driver, I’m not letting him out.

So I thought, Ah, look at him there, the big, smug, Range Rover driver, I’m not letting him out. Then I thought—and all of this was happening quickly, because, like I said, I was moving along in a steady stream of traffic—then I thought, Ah, no, I’ll let him out, it’ll be—and mark me closely here—it’ll be good karma.

So I slowed down, flashed my lights to indicate to the big, smug, Range Rover driver that he was free to go, and he gave a tired smile and started moving forward and already I was feeling a warm sort of glow and wondering vaguely what form of lovely cosmic payback I’d be getting, when the car behind, unprepared for me slowing down to let the Range Rover out—on account of it being a Range Rover—went plowing into the back of me, shunting me forward with such force that I went careering into the side of the Range Rover (the technical term for such a maneuver is “T-boning”) and suddenly there was a three-car love-in going on. Except there was no love there, of course. Far from it.

For me, the whole thing happened in slow motion. From the second the car behind me began to concertina into mine, time almost stopped. I felt the wheels of my own car beneath me, moving without my say-so, and I was staring into the eyes of the man driving the Range Rover, our gazes locked in horror, united in the strange intimacy of knowing we were about to hurt each other and being entirely powerless to prevent it.

Then came the awful reality as my car really did hit his—the sound of metal crunching and glass shattering and the bone-juddering violence of the impact . . . followed by stillness. Just for a second, but a second that lasted a very long time. Stunned and shocked, the man and I stared at each other. He was only inches away from me—the impact had shifted us so that our cars were almost side by side. His side window had shattered and small chunks of glass glittered in his hair, reflecting a silvery light that was the same color as his eyes. He looked even more weary than when he was waiting to be let out of the side road.

Are you alive? I asked, with my thoughts.

Yes, he replied. Are you?

Yes.

My passenger door was wrenched open and the spell was broken. “Are you okay?” someone asked. “Can you get out?”

With shaking limbs, I crawled my way across to the open door and when I was outside and leaning against a wall I saw that Range Rover Man was also free. With relief, I registered that he was standing upright, so his injuries, if any, must be minor.

Out of nowhere a small man hurtled at me and shrieked, “What the hell are you at? That’s a brand-new Range Rover!” It was the driver from the third car, the one who’d caused the accident. “This is going to cost me a fortune. It’s a new car! He doesn’t even have plates on it yet!”

“But, I . . .”

Range Rover Man stepped in and said, “Stop. Calm down. Stop.”

“But it’s a brand-new car!”

“Shouting about it isn’t going to change things.”

The yelling quieted down and I said to Range Rover Man, “I was trying to do a good deed, letting you out.”

“It’s okay.”

Suddenly I realized that he was very angry and in an instant I’d got him—one of those good-looking spoiled men, with his expensive car and his well-cut coat and his expectation that life would treat him nicely.

“At least no one was hurt,” I said.

Range Rover Man wiped some blood off his forehead. “Yeah. At least no one was hurt . . .”

“I mean, like, not seriously . . .”

“I know.” He sighed. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I said, stiffly. I didn’t want his concern.

“I’m sorry if I was . . . you know. It’s been a bad day.”

“Whatever.”

It was mayhem all around us. The traffic was tail-backed in both directions, “helpful” passersby were offering conflicting eye-witness reports and the shouty man started shouting again.

A kind person led me away to sit on a doorstep while we waited for the police and another kind person gave me a bag of sweets. “For your blood sugar,” she said. “You’ve had a shock.”

Very quickly the police showed up and started redirecting traffic and taking statements. Shouty Man shouted a lot and kept jabbing his finger at me, and Range Rover Man was talking soothingly, and I watched them both like I was watching a movie. There was my car, I thought, hazily. Banjaxed. A total write-off. It was utterly miraculous that I’d stepped out of it in one piece.

The accident was Shouty Man’s fault and his insurance would have to cough up, but I wouldn’t get enough to replace my car because insurance companies always underpaid. Ryan would go mad—despite his success we were constantly teetering on the brink of brokeness—but I’d worry about that later. For the moment I was happy enough sitting on this step eating sweets.

Hold on! Range Rover Man was on the move. He strode over to me, his open overcoat flying. “How do you feel now?” he asked.

“Great.” Because I did. Shock, adrenaline, one of those things.

“Can I have your phone number?”

I laughed in his face. “No!” What kind of creep was he, that he tried to pick up women at the scene of a traffic accident? “Anyway, I’m married!”

“For the insurance . . .”

“Oh.” God. The shame, the shame. “Okay.”

 · · · 

So let’s look at the karmic fallout from my good deed—three cars, all of them damaged, one wounded forehead, much irateness, shouting, raised blood pressure, financial worry and deep, deep blush-making humiliation. Bad, bad, all very bad.

 

 

Friday, 30 May

14:49

You know, if you glanced up at my window right now, you’d think to yourself, “Look at that woman. Look at the diligent way she’s sitting upright at her desk. Look at the assiduous way her hands are poised over her keyboard. She’s obviously working very hard . . . hold on . . . is that Stella Sweeney?! Back in Ireland? Writing a new book?! I’d heard she was all washed up!”

Yes, I am Stella Sweeney. Yes, I am (much to my disappointment, but we won’t get into it now) back in Ireland. Yes, I am writing a new book. Yes, I am all washed up.

But I won’t be all washed up for long. No indeed. Because I’m working. You only have to look at me here at my desk! Yes, I’m working.

...Except I’m not. Looking like you’re working isn’t quite the same thing as actually working. I haven’t typed a single word. I can think of nothing to say.

A small smile plays about my lips, though. Just in case you’re looking in. Being in the public eye does that to a person. You have to look smiley and act nice all the time, or else people will say, “The fame went to her head. And it’s not like she was any good in the first place.”

I’ll have to get curtains, I decide. I won’t be able to sustain this smiling business. Already my face is hurting and I’ve only been sitting here for fifteen minutes. Twelve, actually. How slow the time is going!

I type one word. “Ass.” It doesn’t further my case, but it feels nice to write something.

“Begin at the beginning,” Phyllis had told me, that terrible day in her office in New York, a few months ago. “Do an introduction. Remind people of who you are.”

“Have they forgotten already?”

“Sure.”

I’d never liked Phyllis—she was a terrifying little bulldog of a creature. But I wasn’t supposed to like her—she was my agent, not my friend.

The first time I’d met her she’d waved my book in the air and said, “We could go a long way with this. Drop ten pounds and you’ve got yourself an agent.”

I’d cut out the carbs and dropped five of the stipulated ten pounds, then there was a sit-down where she was persuaded to settle for seven pounds and me wearing Spanx whenever I was on TV.

And Phyllis was right: we did go a long way with that book. A long way up, then a long way sideways, then a long way off the map. So far off the map that I’m sitting here at a desk in my small house in the Dublin suburb of Ferrytown, which I thought I’d escaped forever, trying to write another book.

Okay, I’ll write my introduction.

Name: Stella Sweeney.

Age: forty-one and a quarter.

Height: average.

Hair: long, curly and blond-ish.

Recent life events: dramatic.

No, that won’t do; it’s too bare. It needs to be more chatty, more lyrical. I’ll try again.

Hello, there! Stella Sweeney here. Slim, thirty-eight-year-old Stella Sweeney. I know you need no reminding of who I am but, just in case, I wrote the international best-selling inspirational book One Blink at a Time. I was on talk shows and everything. They worked me to the bone on several book tours that took in thirty-four U.S. cities (if you count Minneapolis–St. Paul as two places). I flew in a private plane (once). Everything was lovely, absolutely lovely, except for the bits that were horrible. Living the dream, I was! Except for when I wasn’t . . . But the wheel of fate has turned again and I find myself in very different, more humbling circumstances. Adjusting to the latest twist my life has taken has been painful but ultimately rewarding. Inspired by my new wisdom, not to mention the fact that I’m skint.

No, bad idea to mention the skintness, I’d better take that out. I hit the delete key until all mention of money has disappeared, then start typing again.

Inspired by my new wisdom, I’m trying to write a new book. I’ve no idea what it’s about but I’m hoping if I throw enough words onto a screen, I’ll be able to cobble something together. Something even more inspirational than One Blink at a Time!

That’s grand. That’ll do. Okay, maybe that second-last sentence needs to be tidied up, but, fundamentally, I’m out of the traps. Fair play to me. As a reward, I’ll just take a quick look on Twitter . . .

 · · · 

...Amazing how you can lose three hours just like that. I emerge from my Twitter hole, dazed to find myself still at my desk, still in my tiny “office” (i.e., spare bedroom) in my old house in Ferrytown. In Twitterland we were having a great old chat about summer having finally arrived. Every time it seemed like the discussion might be about to taper off, someone new came in and reignited the whole thing. We discussed fake tan, cos lettuce, shameful feet . . . It was fecking fantastic. FANTASTIC!

I’m feeling great! I remember reading somewhere that the chemicals produced in the brain by a lengthy Twitter session are similar to those produced by cocaine.

Abruptly my bubble pops and I’m faced with the fairy-dust-free facts: I wrote ten sentences today. That’s not enough.

I will work now. I will, I will, I will. If I don’t I’ll have to punish myself by disabling the Internet on this computer . . .

Is that Jeffrey I hear?

It is! In he comes, slamming the front door and throwing his wretched yoga mat onto the hall floor. I can sense every move that yoga mat makes. I’m always aware of it, the way you are when you hate something. It hates me too. It’s like we’re in a battle over ownership of Jeffrey.

I jump up to say hello even though Jeffrey hates me almost as much as his yoga mat does. He’s hated me for ages now. About five years, give or take, basically since the moment he hit thirteen.

I’d thought it was girls who were meant to be nightmare teenagers and that boys simply went mute for the duration. But Betsy wasn’t bad at all and Jeffrey has been full of . . . well . . . angst. In fairness, by dint of having me as his mother, he’s had a roller coaster of a time of it, so much so that when he was fifteen he asked to be put up for adoption.

However, I’m delighted that I can stop pretending to work for a little while, and I run down the stairs. “Sweetheart!” I try to act like the hostility between us doesn’t exist.

There he is, six feet tall, as thin as a pipe cleaner and with an Adam’s apple as big as a muffin. He looks exactly like his father did at that age.

I sense extra animosity from him today.

“What?” I ask.

Without looking at me he says, “Get your hair cut.”

“Why?”

“Just do. You’re too old to have it that long.”

“What’s going on?”

“From the back you look . . . different.”

I coax the story out of him. It transpires that this morning, he was “down the town” with one of his yoga friends. Outside the Pound Shop the friend had spotted me from the rear and made admiring noises and Jeffrey had said, from bloodless lips, “That’s my mom. She’s forty-one and a quarter.”

I deduce that both of them were badly shaken by the experience.

Maybe I should be flattered, but the thing is I know I’m not too bad from the back. The front, however, is not so good. I’m that strange shape where any weight I put on goes straight to my stomach. Even as a teenager, when the other girls were worried sick about the size of their asses and the width of their thighs, I’d kept an anxious eye on my midsection. I knew it had the potential to go rogue and my life has been one long battle to contain it.

Jeffrey swings a shopping bag of peppers at me, with what can only be called aggression. (“He menaced me with capsicums, Your Honor.”) I sigh inwardly. I know what’s coming. He wants to coo...

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