Irish Girls about Town: An Anthology of Short Stories

Irish Girls about Town: An Anthology of Short Stories

by Maeve Binchy

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Get ready to paint the town green.

New York Times bestselling authors Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes top an impressive roster of the Emerald Isle's most popular women writers as they celebrate the joys and perils of love and the adventure and constancy of female friendships.

In Maeve Binchy's "Carissima," an ex-pat returns to Ireland and shakes things

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Get ready to paint the town green.

New York Times bestselling authors Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes top an impressive roster of the Emerald Isle's most popular women writers as they celebrate the joys and perils of love and the adventure and constancy of female friendships.

In Maeve Binchy's "Carissima," an ex-pat returns to Ireland and shakes things up for her family, who finds her free spirit scandalous. In "Soulmates," by Marian Keyes, one woman's relationship is so bleedin' perfect that it's driving her friends crazy. In Cathy Kelly's "Thelma, Louise and the Lurve Gods," two women on a madcap Stateside road trip encounter a pair of insanely good-looking men....These fabulous stories and a baker's dozen more prove that when it comes to spinning a good yarn, the Irish are the best in the business.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Scottish Daily Record The ultimate feel-good book...funny...ironic...thrilling...provocative.

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Pocket Books
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt


Marian Keyes

So was it a disaster?" Peter begged Tim. "Did they try to kill each other?"

Watched by seven avid pairs of eyes, Tim shook his head sorrowfully. "They got on like a house on fire. They're going to do it again in July."

A murmur of Isn't that marvelous? started up.

But Vicky couldn't take any more. In despair, she put her face in her hands. "How do they do it?" she whispered, echoing everyone's sentiments. "How do they bloody well do it!"

Georgia and Joel were born on the same day in the same year in the same city -- though they didn't meet until they were twenty-six-and-a-half, while moving and shaking their way around a launch party for a Japanese beer. When Joel discovered the momentous connection, he declared, above the clamor: "We're twins! Soulmates."

Georgia was called the golden girl, an inadequate attempt to convey how fantastically energetic, gorgeous and nice she was. In every group of human beings there's a natural leader and she was one. Only a very special man could keep up with her: Joel was the perfect candidate. The kindest and best-looking of his good-looking group of prototype New Lad friends, how could he not help gravitating to Georgia, the deluxe version of her coterie of glossy, shiny girlfriends?

And now she had a soulmate. She would, her best friend Vicky thought, with shameful envy. Georgia was always the first. With the first ankle bracelet, the first wedge sandals, she had an unerring instinct for what was good and new and right. Some years back Vicky had tried to trump her with a pair of boots she'd joyously ferried back from New York. This time I'm the winner, Vicky had thought, breathlessly ushering her new boots ahead of her. But Georgia had beaten her to it. Again. By wearing a similar pair of boots -- similar, but better. The heel was nicer, the leather softer, the whole élan simply much more convincing. And she'd only bought them in Ravel.

Soulmates. It was the start of the nineties and new-age stuff had just started being fashionable. Katie had recently bought four crystals and dotted them about her flat, but four crystals couldn't hold a candle to a real live soulmate. It was about the best thing you could have -- better than a tattoo or henna-patterned nails or a cappuccino maker. Quickly others followed their example by claiming that they too had found their SM. But it was only a spurious intimacy based on chemical connection, which dissolved just as soon as the cocaine or ecstasy or Absolut had worn off.

"We're twins," Georgia and Joel declared to the world, and paraded their similarities. A crooked front tooth that she'd had capped and that he'd had knocked out in a motorbike accident and replaced. Both had blond hair, although hers was highlighted. Indeed rumors circulated that perhaps his was too.

Within weeks they'd moved in together and filled their flat with a succession of peculiar things, all of which assumed a stylish luster the minute they became theirs. But no matter how much the others tried to emulate their panache it was never quite the same. The liver-purple paint which Georgia and Joel used to such stylish effect in one room in their south-facing flat never survived the transition to anyone else's wall. Especially not Tim and Alice's northeast-facing living room. "I can't bear it," Tim eventually admitted. "I feel as though I'm watching telly inside an internal organ."

Georgia and Joel spent money fast. "Hey, we're skint," they often laughed -- then immediately went to the River Café. On receiving a particularly onerous credit card bill, they tightened their belts by buying champagne. Attached to them, debt seemed desirable, stylish, alive.

"Money is there to be spent," they claimed and their friends cautiously followed suit, then tried to stop themselves waking in the night in overdrawn terror.

After four years together, Georgia and Joel surprised everyone by getting married. Not just any old marriage -- but you could have guessed that. Instead they went to Las Vegas; hopped on a plane on Friday night after work, were married on Saturday by an Elvis lookalike, were back for work on Monday. The following weekend they rented a baroque room in Charterhouse Square, draped it in white muslin and had the mother of all parties. Proving they were ahead of their time by serving old-fashioned martinis which made a comeback among the Liggerati a couple of years later.

Close friends Melissa and Tom, who were having a beachfront wedding ceremony in Bali a month later, went into a trough of depression and wanted to call the whole thing off.

Two years later, Georgia once more reinvented the right lifestyle choices by announcing her pregnancy. Stretch marks and sleepless nights acquired an immediate cachet. They called their little girl Queenie -- a dusty, musty old ladies' name, but on their child it was quirky and charming. In the following months, various acquaintances named their newborn girls Flossie, Vera and Beryl. Georgia regained her figure within weeks of having the baby. Even worse, she claimed not to have worked out.

Then one day, pension brochures appeared on their circular walnut coffee table.

"Pensions?" asked Neil, hardly believing his luck. Joel had finally cocked up and done something deserving of scorn.

"Got to look to the future," Joel agreed. "You know it makes sense."

"Pensions," Neil repeated, throwing his head back in an elaborate gesture of amusement. "You sad bastard."

"You want to be old and skint?" Joel said with a smile that was very obviously not a cruel one. "Up to you, mate."

And Neil wanted to hang himself. They were always moving the bloody goalposts.

But most of all it was Georgia and Joel's relationship that no one could ever top. They'd been born on the same day, in the same year, within four miles of each other; they were so obviously meant to be together that everyone else's felt like a making-do, a shoddy compromise. Georgia and Joel fitted together, like two halves of a heart; symbiosis was the name of the game and their devotion was lavish and public. Every year one or other of them had a "surprise" birthday party, "for my twin."

Their friends were tightly bound to them by a snarl of admiration, hidden envy and the hope of some of their good fortune rubbing off.

But as they moved forward into the late nineties, perhaps Georgia and Joel's mutual regard wasn't as frantically fervent as once it had been. Perhaps tempers were slightly shorter than previously. Maybe Joel got on Georgia's nerves once in a while. Perhaps Joel wondered if Georgia wasn't quite as golden as she'd once been. Not that they'd ever consider splitting up. Oh, no. Splitting up was for other people, those unfortunate types who hadn't found their soulmate.

And other people did split up. Tom left Melissa for Melissa's brother in a scandal that had everyone on the phone to each other in gleeful horror for some weeks, all vying to be the biggest bearer of bad news, outdoing each other in the horrific details. "I hear they were shagging each other on Tom and Melissa's honeymoon. On the honeymoon. Can you believe it!" Vicky's husband left her. She'd had a baby, couldn't shift the weight, became dowdy and different. Unrecognizable. She'd once been a contender. Of course, never exactly as lambent or lustrous as Georgia, but now she'd slipped and slipped behind, well out of the race, limping and abandoned.

Georgia was a loyal and ever-present friend in their times of woe. Tirelessly she visited, urged trips to hairdressers, took care of children, consoled, cajoled. She even let Vicky and Melissa say things like, "You think that your relationship is the one that won't hit the wall, but it can happen to anyone." Georgia always let them get away with it, bestowing a kindly smile and resisting the urge to say, "Joel and I are different."

People gave up watching and waiting for Georgia and Joel to unravel. The times people said, "Don't you think Georgia and Joel are just too devoted? Methinks they do protest too much," became fewer and fewer. People ran out of energy and patience waiting for the roof to fall in on the soulmates and their "special relationship."

But the thing about a soulmate is that it can be a burden as well as a blessing, Joel found himself thinking one day. You're stuck with them. Other people can ditch their partner and forage with impunity in the outside world, looking for a fresh partner, where everyone is a possibility. Having a spiritual twin fairly narrows your choice.

And Georgia found herself emotionally itchy. What would have happened if she hadn't met Joel? Who would she be with now? And she experienced an odd yearning, she missed the men she hadn't loved, the boyfriends she'd never met.

So acute was this unexpected sadness that she tried to speak to Katie about it.

"Sounds like you're bored with Joel," Katie offered. "Do you still love him?"

"Love him?" Georgia exclaimed, with knee-jerk alacrity. "He's my soulmate!"

Then one night Joel got very, very drunk and admitted to Chris, "I fancy other women. I want to sleep with every girl I see. The curiosity is too much."

"That's normal," Chris said in surprise. "Have an affair."

"It's not normal. This is me and Georgia."

"Sounds like you're in trouble, mate."

"Not me and Georgia."

They believed their own publicity and, in time-honored tradition, attempted to paper over the cracks by having another baby. A boy this time. They called him Clement.

"That's an old man's name!"

"We're being ironic!" But their laughs lacked conviction and when they painted Clement's room silver no one copied them.

On they labored, shoulder to shoulder. While all around them people danced the dance of love: merging and splitting, blending anew with fresh partners, sundering, twirling and cleaving joyously to the next one. And shackled to their soulmate, Georgia and Joel watched with naked envy.

It was only when Georgia began questioning her mother on the circumstances of her birth that she realized how ridiculous the situation had become. "What time of the day was I born, Mum?" she asked, as Clement bellowed on her lap.


"Could it have been a little bit later?" Georgia heard herself ask. "Like gone midnight?" So that it was actually the following day, she thought but didn't articulate.

"It was eleven in the morning, nowhere near midnight."

Three weeks later when Joel and Georgia split up it caused a furor. Everyone declared themselves horrified, that if the golden couple couldn't hack it, what hope was there for the rest of them? But there wasn't one among them who couldn't help a frisson of long-awaited glee. Now Mr. and Mrs. Perfect would see what it was like for the rest of them.

The "press release" insisted that they were still friends, that it was all very adult and civilized, that they were in complete agreement over finances and custody of the children. Sure, everyone scorned. Sure.

But, disconcertingly, Georgia wouldn't join in an "all men are bastards" conversation with Vicky, Katie and Melissa. Not even when Joel began going out with a short, plump dental nurse called Helen.

"Tim has met her," Alice consoled. "He says she's not a patch on you."

"Oh don't," Georgia objected. "I think she's really sweet."

"You've met her?!"

And when Georgia began seeing a graphic designer called Conor, Tim assured Joel that Alice said he was a prat.

"Nah," Joel protested. "He's a good bloke. We're all going on holiday with the kids at Easter."

"Who are?" Tim wanted to pass out.

"Me and Helen, Georgia and Conor."

Everyone declared that it was wonderful they were being so mature about the split and only the certain knowledge that the holiday would be a bloodbath consoled them. Itching to find out just how bad it was, Tim rang Joel the day he got back. Then Tim, Alice, Katie, Vicky, Melissa, Chris, Neil and Peter gathered in the pub, ostensibly for a casual drink. Conversation glanced off the usual subjects -- house prices, hair straighteners, Pamela Anderson's breasts -- until no one could bear any more. Peter was the first to crack, the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

"So was it a disaster?" he begged Tim. "Did they try to kill each other?"

Watched by seven avid pairs of eyes, Tim shook his head sorrowfully. "They got on like a house on fire. They're going to do it again in July."

A murmur of Isn't that marvelous? started up.

But Vicky couldn't take any more. In despair, she put her face in her hands. "How do they do it?" she whispered, echoing everyone's sentiments. "How do they bloody well do it!"

Since she was first published in 1995, Marian Keyes has become a publishing phenomenon. Her five novels, Watermelon, Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, Rachel's Holiday, Last Chance Saloon and Sushi for Beginners, have become international bestsellers, selling over six million copies worldwide.

Her latest book, Under the Duvet, is a collection of her non-fiction, and her most recent novel, Angels, was published in hardback in September 2002.

Marian Keyes lives in Dublin with her husband.

Compilation copyright © 2002 by Simon & Schuster/TownHouse Ltd.
"Soulmates" copyright © 2001 by Marian Keyes

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