I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Getting Away

Caitriona Clear
Grown Ups, by Marian Keyes, Michael Joseph, 656 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0718179755 Those of us who appreciate genre fiction were delighted when Marian Keyes reminded Colm Tóibín that his most popular book, Brooklyn, could easily belong to one of the literary genres he professed to despise. Significantly, Brooklyn is the only one of Tóibín’s novels I’ve ever managed to finish. I love any story that traces the changing fortunes of an interconnected cast of convincing characters, thrashing out their problems and their relationships. Other attractions of popular fiction are vivid descriptions of what people do (work), how they look (clothes) and where they go (settings, not necessarily exotic, just well-described). Marian Keyes delivers on all of these counts, and has the added bonus of being laugh-out-loud funny. In Grown Ups the entire extended family goes to Tuscany for a week. While the villa and the village are depicted as both beautiful and comfortable – wonderful escapist reading for a dreary February ‑ Florence itself is ho-hum underwhelming. The Uffizi gallery is given its due, but outside it a man plays the theme from The Godfather on an accordion, the model for the statue of David, a character remarks, must have been very cold, and the town centre consists of “seven-storey buildings in every gradation of yellow, from buttercup to straw, tottering over narrow, pedestrianized streets”. Yep, that’s pretty much Florence. Far more attractive is an Easter weekend in a Killarney hotel, complete with lake walks, mountain hikes, spa treatments and tension, and a Tipperary Electric-Picnic-type festival with outdoor forest baths set on wooden slats, fed by hot springs, with bath oils and fluffy white towels. There are also weekends in Mayo and Antrim. A necessary literary device to throw characters together in unfamiliar settings, communal family/friend away-events feature a lot in genre/popular fiction ‑ Alex Marwood’s The Darkest Secret, Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party and TM Logan’s The Holiday are just three examples. If fiction has taught me anything, it is to never, ever attempt anything like this in real life. Grown Ups’ core family, Jessie, her second husband, Johnny Casey, and their offspring are so rich that their satellites sometimes have trouble keeping up. A highly successful businesswoman, Jessie thinks of everybody and pays for everything and everyone, and then has a spectacular meltdown when her fiftieth birthday does not live up to her expectations. This disastrous away-event, in Antrim, is one of the funniest parts of the book, but I…

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