Of all the overwhelming emotions that most people have cycled through during this pandemic – fear, uncertainty, grief, loneliness – perhaps one that is under-discussed is shame. “All of the terrible things I’ve done in my life have come back to haunt me,” Marian Keyes admits, breezily, in the second series of her radio show Between Ourselves. Without the distractions of work, travel and “going round the shops trying on foundation” to keep such unpleasant memories at bay, repressed emotions are finally able to resurface. But perhaps, Keyes suggests in her typically mischievous tone, this might be a good thing – a form of “emotional bloodletting”. “It certainly feels like bloodletting, all right,” her co-host and friend, the actor Tara Flynn, acknowledges.
This four-episode series mixes winking chats between Flynn and Keyes (Flynn, wisely, takes a back seat in discussions, but is a witty presence in her own right) with readings from Keyes’s non-fiction work. Programme topics include adventure, health, adulthood and, yes, shame – but guilt, awkwardness and embarrassment lurk across the whole season.
In the final episode, entitled “Adulthood”, Keyes reflects on how as a bored nine-year-old enduring Catholic Mass, she would fantasise about Donny Osmond and their “thrilling life together in Salt Lake City” – only to feel ferocious guilt afterwards.
After spending years of her adulthood feeling “afraid and incomplete”, Keyes explained how she sought to fix herself with a variety of expensive but unconvincing therapies, from acupuncture to hypnotherapy, where she would pretend to be “under” while “speaking in a faint hypnotised-style voice”. Keyes has, she explains, learned instead to live with her shame – the “hole in her soul” – and not to panic about it.
I laughed in recognition at Keyes’s admission that, in her twenties, she thought success was defined by “having your photograph taken” and “being in New York, often”. Now, her goal is simply to “feel calm”, something that, after a year of churning anxiety and bursts of despair, sounds more appealing than ever.
“Between Ourselves with Marian Keyes” is available to listen to on BBC Sounds
Between Ourselves with Marian Keyes
BBC Radio 4
This article appears in the 17 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The system cannot hold