On the cover was an illustration of a young woman in a skimpy red outfit balancing on one leg while holding a bottle of wine in one hand and a wine glass in the other. The title, Rachel's Holiday, hovered above her lifted leg. It looked like perfect vacation reading. If things went wrong on my holiday, I could always laugh at how much worse they were for Rachel on her holiday because funny bad things always happen to characters in books like these.
Had I read the first line or at least the back cover before buying it, I would have known the title was facetious and the book was not about Rachel's vacation at all.
Rachel is Irish and has drifted over the ocean with her roommate, Brigit, to New York City. Although Brigit moved there for career opportunities, Rachel is not bothered with such aspirations. She divides her time between having fun and recovering from having fun so she can have more fun later. She's convinced that because she lives in such a big, busy city both of these activities require lots of drugs, usually something like cocaine at night, valium in the morning.
Substitute with other like drugs and repeat.
One night Rachel overdoes it and wakes up in the hospital to discover she's had her stomach pumped. Her first reaction is slight embarrassment at her stupidity. Her sister shows up to escort her to a rehab clinic in Ireland and Rachel becomes slightly annoyed. When her boyfriend breaks it off with her and tells her to get help, she gets pissed. Even her roommate is unsympathetic to her mistaken junkie identity.
Her family persuades her to check into a rehab facility. Rachel concedes believing she doesn't have a drug problem but can make her family happy while taking advantage of a forced vacation. She imagines facials and massages, smoothies and veggie treats. Upon arrival, the center's rundown appearance shocks her, but she assumes it's being remodeled. As with other truths about her life, it takes her a while to accept the facts. Chocolate bars and musical chairs are the only treats the center has.
Rachel's rehab experiences are interspersed with her life story. Memories from childhood through her recent history in New York emerge, but these memories are unreliable. Each retelling is colored by, at first, her addiction, and then the subsequent stages of her rehabilitation: denial, anger, etc. This constant distortion succeeds in keeping the reader seeing eye to eye with Rachel (and kept me believing her excuses for quite some time).
This is a coming-of-age story, and it's engaging to watch Rachel change. Throughout she is selfish, has low self-esteem and often lies to herself and others. These negative characteristics are treated more as traits of her personality than problems that need fixing. Although not always likeable, Rachel always comes off as being as honest about herself as she can be. Though we know she has hurt her family, her best friend and her boyfriend, she seems pathetically harmless. It is this mild everydayness about her and her habits that qualify the books as light summer reading instead of Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet fodder.
Rachel's depth of character is offset with the rehab center's stock characters. First there's Josephine, the hard-as-nails rehab counselor who bullies her addicts into confessions. She asks about each addict's past, reading Jerry Springer topics into every relationship until she hits a nerve. Josephine shows another side of herself only when Rachel's treatment is over.
Rachel meets Nola at an NA meeting in rehab and she provides ongoing support for Rachel once she's left the center. Nola is an inspiration to Rachel because she's a recovering addict who happens to be gorgeous, successful and happily married to the perfect husband.
Rachel's being Irish plays out as more of a fact of the book than an angle. Irish author Marian Keyes sets most of the story in Dublin, but aside from a few odd-sounding exclamations there's nothing forcedly foreign about the book.
Although Rachel would have been a good vacation companion, this book never made it to my vacation. I read it within five days of buying it. I only hope the next book I buy for my vacation will be as pleasant a surprise as this one.