A wry and life-affirming novel from the internationally bestselling author
Marian Keyes's inimitable blend of rollicking humor, effervescent prose, and stories that deal with real-life issues have captivated readers around the globe. She is one of the bestselling authors of women's fiction in the English-speaking world. Her new novel will delight fans of Candace Bushnell's darkly comic sensibility and Sophie Kinsella's fast-paced action. The Brightest Star in the Sky follows seven neighbors whose lives become entangled when a sassy and prescient spirit pays a visit to their Dublin townhouse with the intent of changing at least one of their lives.
But what will this metamorphosis be and who will the sprite choose? There's Matt and Maeve, the newlyweds struggling to overcome the first obstacle in their storybook romance; Lydia, the brassy but vulnerable cabbie; Katie, the just-turned-forty PR executive searching for a more gratifying life; and the eldest resident, Jemima, currently playing hostess to her son Fionn, who is in town to star as the hunky gardener in a hot new television show.
Keyes's universal themes and appealing characters have made her an international phenomenon, and are sure to conquer a wider American audience. With The Brightest Star in the Sky, she delivers another satisfying story charming in its wit and surprising in its depth.
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Marian Keyes, a preeminent writer of contemporary women's fiction, is the internationally bestselling author of more than ten novels and two autobiographical works. She lives in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, with her husband.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Table of Contents
Day 41 (early hours of)
Day 40 (early hours of)
Day 32 (very early in the morning)
Two Weeks Later
Day Zero (early hours of)
With special thanks to the Dublin Rape Crisis Center
· Also by Marian Keyes ·
This Charming Man
Anybody Out There?
Cracks in My Foundation
Sushi for Beginners
Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married
The Other Side of the Story
Under the Duvet
Last Chance Saloon
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Copyright © Marian Keyes, 2009
All rights reserved
Excerpt from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen. © 1992 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC. All rights administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 8 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Excerpt from “I Will Survive” words and music by Dino Fekaris and Frederick J. Perren. Copyright © 1978 Universal-Polygram International Publishing, Inc. and Perren-Vibes Music, Inc. Copyright renewed. All rights controlled and administered by Universal-Polygram International Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. “Little Red Riding Hood” by Christina Reihill. Used by permission.
Publisher’s Note This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
The brightest star in the sky / Marian Keyes.
1. Apartment houses-Fiction. 2. Dublin (Ireland)-Fiction. 3. Chick lit. I. Title.
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For Dylan Martin
Once upon a time
I was you
What happened child
Of golden hair
What happened then
I wasn’t there
You reached for me
But another won your heart
A smiling lie
Danced your way
You followed him
Into a wood
No one saw
The wolf in hood
And now you stand
And stare at me
Your frock is stained
Your knees are green
How do I hold your hand and stay
How do I heal
For you . . .
“Little Red Riding Hood”
by Christina Reihill
From Diving for a White Rose
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
It’s how the light gets in.
June the first, a bright summer’s evening, a Monday. I’ve been flying over the streets and houses of Dublin and now, finally, I’m here. I enter through the roof. Via a skylight I slide into a living room and right away I know it’s a woman who lives here. There’s a femininity to the furnishings—pastel-colored throws on the sofa, that sort of thing. Two plants. Both alive. A television of modest size.
I appear to have arrived in the middle of some event. Several people are standing in an awkward circle, sipping from glasses of champagne and pretending to laugh at what the others are saying. A variety of ages and sexes suggests that this is a family occasion.
Birthday cards abound. Discarded wrapping paper. Presents. Talk of leaving for the restaurant. Hungry for information I read the cards. They’re addressed to someone called Katie and she appears to be celebrating her fortieth birthday. I wouldn’t have thought that that called for much celebration but it takes all sorts, I’m told.
I locate Katie. She looks a good deal younger than forty, but forty is the new twenty, according to my information. She’s tallish and dark-haired and bosomy and gamely doing her best to stay upright in a pair of spike-heeled knee-boots. Her force field is a pleasant one; she vibrates with level-headed warmth, like a slightly sexy primary-school teacher. (Although that’s not actually her job. I know this because I know an awful lot.)
The man next to Katie, glowing with dark pride—the pride is in large part to do with the new platinum watch on Katie’s wrist—is her boyfriend, partner, loved one, whatever you want to call it.
An interesting man, with a compelling life force, his vibrations are so powerful they’re almost visible. I’ll be honest: I’m intrigued.
Conall, they’re calling this man. The more polite members of the group, at least. A few other names are hovering in the ether—Show-off; Flash bastard—but remain unuttered. Fascinating. The men don’t like him at all. I’ve identified Katie’s father, brother and brother-in-law and not one of them is keen. However, the women—Katie’s mother, sister and best friend—don’t seem to mind him as much.
I’ll tell you something else: this Conall doesn’t live here. A man on a frequency as potent as his wouldn’t stand for a television of such modest size. Or plant-watering.
I waft past Katie and she puts a hand up to the nape of her neck and shivers.
“What?” Conall looks ready to do battle.
“Nothing. Someone just walked over my grave.”
Oh come now! Hardly!
“Hey!” Naomi—older sister of Katie—is pointing at a mirror that’s propped on the floor against a cupboard. “Is your new mirror not up yet?”
“Not yet,” Katie says, sudden tension leaking from between her teeth.
“But you’ve had it for ages! I thought Conall was going to do it for you.”
“Conall is going to do it,” Katie says very firmly. “Tomorrow morning, before he goes to Helsinki. Aren’t you, Conall?”
Friction! Zinging around the room, rebounding off the walls. Conall, Katie and Naomi volleying waves of tension against each other in a fast-moving taut triangle, the repercussions expanding ever outwards to include everyone else there. Entre nous, I’m dying to find out what’s going on but, to my alarm, I’m being overtaken by some sort of force. Something bigger or better than me is moving me downwards. Through the 100 percent wool rug, past some dodgy joists, which are frankly riddled with woodworm—someone should be told—and into another place: the flat below Katie’s. I’m in a kitchen. An astonishingly dirty kitchen. Pots and pans and plates are piled higgledy-piggledy in the sink, soaking in stagnant water, the linoleum floor hasn’t been washed in an age, and the stove top sports many elaborate splashes of old food as if a gang of action painters has recently paid a visit. Two muscular young men are leaning on the kitchen table, talking in Polish. Their faces are close together and the conversation is urgent, almost panicked. They’re both pulsing with angst, so much so that their vibrations have become entangled and I can’t get a handle on either of them. Luckily, I discover I am fluent in Polish, and here’s a rude translation of what they’re saying:
“Jan, you tell her.”
“No, Andrei, you tell her.”
“I tried the last time.”
“Andrei, she respects you more.”
“No, Jan. Hard as it is for me, a Polish man, to understand, she doesn’t respect either of us. Irish women are beyond me.”
“Andrei, you tell her and I’ll give you three stuffed cabbages.”
“Four and you’re on.”
(I’m afraid I made up those last two sentences.)
Into the kitchen comes the object of their earnest discussion and I can’t see what they’re so afraid of, two fine big lads like them, with their tattoos and slightly menacing buzz cuts. This little creature—Irish, unlike the two boys—is lovely. A pretty little minx with mischievous eyes and spiky eyelashes and a head of charming jack-in-the-box curls that spring all the way down past her shoulders. Mid-twenties, by the look of her, and exuding vibrations so zesty they zigzag through the air.
In her hand she’s carrying a pre-prepared dinner. A wretched-looking repast. (Grayish roast beef, in case you’re interested.)
“Go on,” Jan hisses at Andrei.
“Lydia.” Andrei gestures at the, quite frankly, filthy kitchen. Speaking English, he says, “You clean sometime.”
“Sometime,” she agrees, scooping up a fork from the draining board. “But sadly not in this lifetime. Now move.”
With alacrity Andrei clears a path for her to access the microwave. Viciously, she jabs her fork into the cellophane covering her dinner. Four times, each puncture making a noise like a small explosion, loud enough to make Jan’s left eye twitch, then she slams the carton into the microwave. I take this opportunity to drift up behind her to introduce myself, but to my surprise she swats me away as though I were a pesky fly.
Don’t you know who I am?
Andrei is giving it another go. “Lydia, pliz . . . Jan and I, we clean menny, menny times.”
“Good for you.” Breezy delivery from Lydia as she locates the least dirty-looking knife in the murk of the sink and runs it under the tap for half a second.
“We hev made schedule.” Feebly Andrei waves a piece of paper at her.
“Good for you again.” Oh how white her teeth are, how dazzling her smile!
“You are livingk here three weeks. You hev not cleaned. You must clean.”
An unexpected pulse of emotion radiates from Lydia, black and bitter. Apparently, she does clean. But not here? Where, then?
“Andrei, my little Polish cabbage, and you too, Jan, my other little Polish cabbage, let’s imagine things were the other way round.” She waves her (still soiled) knife to emphasize her point. In fact, I know that there are 273 different bacteria thriving and flourishing on that knife. However, I also know by now that it would take the bravest and most heroic of bacteria to get the better of this Lydia.
“The other way round?” Andrei asks anxiously.
“Say it was two women and one man living in this flat. The man would never do anything. The women would do it all. Wouldn’t they?”
The microwave beeps. She whisks her unappetizing dinner from it and, with a charming smile, leaves the room to look up something on the internet.
What a peppy little madam! A most fascinating little firebrand!
“She called us cabbages,” Jan said stonily. “I hate when she calls us cabbages.”
But, eager as I am to see what transpires next—tears from Jan, perhaps?—I’m being moved again. Onwards, downwards, through the health-hazard linoleum, through more porous timber-work, and I find myself in yet another flat. This one is darker. Full of heavy furniture too big and brown for the room. It features several rugs of conflicting patterns, and net curtains so dense they appear to be crocheted. Seated on a sturdy armchair is a dour-looking elderly woman. Knees apart, slippered feet planted firmly on the floor. She must be at least a hundred and sixteen. She’s watching a gardening program and, from the furrow-browed expression on her face, you’d swear she’s never heard such outrageous idiocy in her life. Hardy perennials? No such thing, you stupid, stupid man! Everything dies!
I float past her and into a small gloomy bedroom, then into a slightly bigger but just as gloomy, second bedroom, where I’m surprised to meet a large, long-eared dog so big and gray that momentarily I think he’s a donkey. He’s slumped in a corner, his head on his paws, sulking—then he senses my presence and instantly he’s alert. You can’t get away with it, with animals. Different frequencies, see. It’s all about the frequencies.
Frozen with awe and fear, his long donkey-ears cocked, he growls softly, then changes his mind, poor confused fool. Am I friend or foe? He hasn’t a notion.
And the name of this creature? Well, oddly enough it would appear to be “Grudge.” But that can’t be right, that’s not a name. The problem is, there’s too much stuff in this flat and it’s slowing the vibrations down, messing with their patterns.
Leaving the donkey dog behind, I flit back into the sitting room, where there’s a mahogany roll-top desk as dense and weighty as a fully grown elephant. A modest pile of opened mail tells me that the crone’s name is Jemima.
Beside the mail is a silver-framed photo of a young man, and with a flash of insight I know his name is Fionn. It means “Fair One.” So who is he? Jemima’s betrothed who was killed in the Boer War? Or was he carried off in the flu epidemic of 1918? But the photostyle is wrong for a First World War type. Those men,...
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