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by Maran Keyes
Avon, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Sep 4th 2002

Rachel's Holiday

Rachel’s Holiday is a light novel with a serious topic.  Rachel Walsh is twenty-seven years old, and after she is hospitalized after an overdose, she is pressured by her family to check into “The Cloisters,” a drug treatment clinic.  Her “holiday” is in fact an extended stay intended to help her end her dependency on drugs and alcohol. 

When Rachel first arrives at The Cloisters near her family home in Ireland, she does not think she has a problems, and she only agrees to treatment because she is hoping to meet a variety of celebrities and to spend several weeks being pampered by friendly nurses and lounging in Jacuzzis.  But she is appalled to discover herself surrounded by dysfunctional addicts in denial about their obvious faults.  The most dramatic episodes occur when relatives or partners of the residents make a special trip to their group therapy to talk about how the addiction affected their lives, because it is here that the residents’ lies are most transparent; these events are the most effective in breaking down the residents’ resistance to accepting the truth about themselves.

The longer Rachel stays, the more obvious it is that she really has had a serious problem with drink and drugs.  We gradually learn more about her previous years in New York City, where she lived with her old friend and housemate Brigit and her boyfriend Luke.  It becomes painfully clear how she used to rely on cocaine, tranquilizers and drink to calm her anxieties and insecurities, lying and stealing to get access to her needed chemicals.  But Rachel herself is stuck in her old ways of thinking, blaming everyone else for her difficulties and lacking any real insight into her own life.

It takes some difficult group sessions for Rachel to finally come to better understanding of her addiction, and she eventually comes to accept her dependence.  Author Marian Keyes, whose previous novel Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married was a pleasing comedy, writes with a lightly humorous touch. The strength of this book is in its ability to convey the power of denial without setting out a textbook description of substance abuse as a mental disorder.  It is a good read that should appeal to a wide range of readers, especially those who might want to know a little more about addiction.


© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.