I feel like I’m getting into Marian Keyes’ work a bit late, but it’s definitely a case of better late than never. It’s a pretty difficult book to review without giving things away though, so if you don’t want to know then don’t read on!
‘Anybody Out There’ is a touching, heartbreaking yet reaffirming novel based on how the tragedy of a young woman goes through the stages of grief to eventually find that, despite life going on, memories are always out there.
Personally, I found it fairly easy to guess at what had happened to Anna Walsh, the Ireland girl living the dream in New York. My friends, however, all had different (and inaccurate) theories over the mysterious circumstances behind Anna’s battered state and return to Ireland, including the idea that she was the victim of domestic abuse. What I loved about Keyes’ hints at the devastation behind Anna’s gradual recovery and clamour to return to the Big Apple was that it didn’t feel like she was purposely hiding information. Instead, it felt as though we were living through Anna, going through her denial and her coping mechanisms in order to follow her path from physical to psychological recovery.
Having this punctuated with the lives of Anna’s family and friends also aided this: Anna is seen to be coping amongst life, not separately to it, and as such her recovery becomes all the more challenging in the face of the ever-changing world around her. The notion of her first wedding alone, her friend having a child amidst her loss, and the comic relief of Helen’s attempt at espionage were all interweaved in the fabric of Anna’s journey, allowing Keyes to contextualise the notion of recovery instead of unrealistically isolating it. As such, it becomes a relatable novel.
Equally, Anna’s desperation to contact her husband, Aidan, is also incredibly heart-breaking, and Keyes’ inclusion of psychic worlds ironically sticks within the realms of reality to maintain the honest and emotional reality of grief. The visits to the Church of Spiritualist Communication highlight how well Keyes used Anna’s search for a method of talking to Aidan. The temptation must have been there, to have Anna communicate with her husband through a psychic medium, but resisting this allowed the novel to maintain its credibility, instead using the others within the support group to guide Anna towards her resolution. The group’s disbandment at the end of the novel shows this clearly: they were all props to help one another through the grieving process, and the transformation that Anna sees in Mitch during and after her attendance of these sessions is equally demonstrative of this. I must say though, despite Anna being denied psychic visitations from Aidan, the final scene with the butterfly is a welcome romanticised break from reality, closing the novel on the premise that death isn’t the end, and that somebody really is out there to watch over those they leave behind.
The only bit I really struggled to comprehend was Anna’s anger over Aidan’s son. Thinking about it afterwards, it seems like Anna’s anger is displaced onto Aidan’s son, when really she is angry at him being taken from her. But still, it is only with hindsight that I really considered this as her motive, and as such her issue with Aidan’s son feels a little contrived. However, because it is never singularly at the forefront for long periods, this is easily remedied by the rest of the plot.
The concept that resonated most with me from ‘Anybody Out There’ was the idea of Aidan, not Anna, being frightened and alone. Anna’s pleas that he wouldn’t like being dead were some of the most poignant of the novel, mostly because everyone wonders about life after death. The idea of the unknown being fearful for those left behind is not uncommon, and Anna’s concern for her husband’s wellbeing even after he is gone is beautifully written. The end certainly reconciles the notion of questioning if anyone is out there with the idea of continuation: life cannot be continually marred by death, otherwise the world would cease to function. Instead, Anna Walsh teaches us that it is possible to continue, and that the end is not the end, but the beginning of a new part of our lives.