From Binchy, that well-beloved chronicler of things Irish (as in Circle of Friends and Firefly Summer), eight thematically connected stories, plus four thrown in presumably for good measure. The whole lot testifies to this writer's continued fascination with ordinary people and their tics of character, and how their lives never straighten out but grow more bittersweetly convoluted by the heartbeat. A lilac-colored bus is what draws eight Dubliners together for the four-hour trip to and from the village of Rathdoon on the weekends. And a varied collection of souls they are, including: Nancy Morris, the world's stingiest woman, who by the end of her sorry story does not change her ways a bit; a bank porter named Mikey, who despite his habit for telling off-color jokes badly, and for his generally hang-doggish self-presentation, finishes first when he steps into his errant elder brother's shoes (and marriage); Celia, a big, strapping girl who comes up with an ingenious way of convincing her perpetually potted mam that it's time to take herself off to a dry-out clinic; and Rupert, an earnest young fellow who tiptoes out of the closet when he at last determines to bring his male lover home to meet his stodgy, aging parents. Meanwhile, the Dublin Four stories that close the collection, about a very nervous country girl come to the city, a betrayed wife in pursuit of vengeance, and others, suffer from their lack of connecting fiber, and on occasion simply go on for too long. A big plate of mixed appetizers for Binchy fans, some of them nicely concentrated character studies, others predictable and flat.
Another collection of related tales (as in this popular Irish author's The Lilac Bus, 1991) dealing with a varied clutch of people and their several life crises. The principals here are mainly natives of the village of Shancarrig, and some are former classmates at the school, a little stone building shaded by a copper beech. The time is roughly from the 1950's to 1969, when the school closes. The chronicles begin with the sad story of fragile (and only faintly fey) Maddy Ross, a junior assistant teacher, and her doomed love for a charismatic priest (who cheats the church as he cheats her). Among the other people whose stories are told: Maura Brennan, poor and good beyond imagining, who adores her Down's syndrome son, the legacy of a deserting husband; lonely Eddie Barton, who's carrying on a lie-padded pen-pal romance with a Scottish lass who has her own secret; the long-grieving Dr. Jims, who at last has a reconciliation with his son—the son whose birth took his wife's life; the childless Kellys who experience a miracle-through-death; lawyer Richard Hayes, who learns love the hard way; and a pair of lovers who triumph over knowledge of murder and scandal. At the end, the school building is to close, and who will be the new owners? Outsiders? Maddy Ross's unsavory cult? One of the school alums who carved initials in the beech? A parfait of sentiment and mostly happy endings. There are a few bright and snappy spots—but, in general, it's all heartwarming to the swelter point. (Book-of-the-Month Dual Selection for November)
Binchy (The Copper Beach, 1992, etc.) once again chronicles friends and neighbors in village and town, but here she elongates her tale into a 592-page taffy pull. It's all about a woman who deserts husband and children for a handsome lover, is dead to her family and village, but blossoms in the big city and touches her daughter's life. The McMahon household—kind, dull pharmacist Martin; daughter Kit; and son Emmett—are mourning wife and mother Helen. Dreamy, restless, fond of long walks, Helen apparently drowned in the local lake. But in fact she fled to London with blindingly handsome Louis Gray, ``the man she thought of...every time Martin made love to her.'' (Louis's bolt years before to marry a rich woman was, he said, ``a mistake.'') Helen, now ``Lena,'' pregnant by Louis (there will be a miscarriage), left a letter for Martin telling all. But young Kit, fearing that Mother might be a suicide and therefore not rate a church burial, burns the letter unread. In London, Lena makes a smashing success of a small employment agency, doing Good Works along the way. Louis is climbing in the hotel biz, but his philandering glands are humming again. Kit, a high schooler, is puzzled and pleased one day to have a letter from Lena, a self- styled ``friend of Helen,'' and a pen-palship develops. Will she ever know The Truth? Years pass, there are marriages and young love problems, and an old love sours. In the village the young folks fix up a moldering hotel for a grand ball. On the night of the ball, hidden in shadows—yup, you guessed it. The only genuinely touching tale here is that of a hermit nun who listens, as others can't, to the still, small voice of compassion. Top-heavy with coincidence, improbables, and sentiment. (Author tour)
A collection of Christmas-centered feel-good tales about love and family snarls in the season of comfort and joy. All are rendered in Binchy's popular unglossed style (The Glass Lake, 1995, etc.), and set in England, Ireland, and Australia. Some of the 15 tales have to do with unwise, innocent women carrying torches for the married lovers who take them for granted. Most eventually find the strength to douse the torch they've been carrying and let their own light shine—one is helped along by the plight of a loveless teenager and a sad gambler who's lost all. There are also abrasive relationships with children. In ``The First Step of Christmas,'' a resentful, neglected stepdaughter is lured home by a simple holiday tradition. Two single men with wayward adult children find mutual support and insight in ``A Typical Irish Christmas,'' and two singles in their 50s fly to Australia to meet their children's spouses for the first time—and discover each other along the way. Included as well are amusing tales about ditsy-to-just-plain-awful grannies. In ``A Season of Fuss,'' adult children foolishly try to curb their mother's towering nervous flights of preparation for the holidays. In ``The Best Inn in Town,'' two crazy grandmothers—one with ``a lip that curled all on its own,'' the other possessing ``a tinkling laugh that would freeze the blood''—are about to be dumped in a local inn. But the grandchildren, used to ``the natural order of things'' at Christmastime, have a better idea. There are marital reconciliations, too, and, in the sourly amusing title story, a long-suffering housewife, a good old reliable preparer and supplier of Christmas jollity, plans a surprise for her dense family that will resonate far beyond Christmas. In all, an appropriate gift for the casual reader—a bit of sentimentality and a touch of romance, along with humor and hopeful turns to treat those with cases of the holiday blues. (Literary Guild featured alternate selection)
Binchy (The Copper Beech, 1992, etc.) once again nets a flock of middle- and lower-middle worriers, loners, and groaners, all brooding on their peculiar miseries, until an updraft of love or happy coincidences sets them free. Here, the transforming agent is an evening class in Italian taking place in a barracks-like school in a run-down Irish neighborhood. Heading the list of the forlorn is 48-year-old Aidan, a teacher of Latin who dreams of Italy. His marriage is loveless, his daughters distant, and he is being bumped as a candidate for a principal's position by a heavy-drinking rouÇ. Then there's Nora O'Donoghue, now 50. In a remote Sicilian village, Nora had been for years a backstreet love of the man she followed to Italy—a man who'd been forced to marry another. When he was killed in an accident, she returned to Ireland and eventually, as ``Signora,'' came to teach in the evening school that Aidan now hopes to make into a success. He does, and blighted lives begin to bloom. The Signora tutors a young failure who begins to percolate in school. The boy's sister is in love with a lad who does lucrative jobs for a crime syndicate; Signora sees that the crooked becomes straight. Among other classmates whose lives become bright and new: a bank clerk who, saddled with a dippy fianceÇ and a retarded sister, discovers the worth of being needed; an earnest young girl who learns the truth about her sacrificing sister and meets her father; and a childlike hotel porter whose innocence brings some pleasant surprises. At the close, all the classmates, as well as Aidan and Signora, take a viaggio to Italy, and there's love all around, with only a brace of female meanies left in the cold. Satisfying as any happy-dust tale in which joyful conclusions are foreordained. A Binchy shoo-in. (First serial to Good Housekeeping; Literary Guild main selection; TV satellite tour)
Once again, Binchy (The Glass Lake, 1995, etc.) memorably limns the lives of ordinary people caught in the traps sprung by life and loving hearts. When Danny Lynch and his young bride-to-be Ria Norris buy No. 16, a large, derelict Victorian house, Tara Road is a rundown Dublin street. Lovingly restored, the house soon becomes a gathering place as neighbors stop by to chat, help out, or eat one of Ria’s delicious meals. Ria has loved handsome Danny, a realtor who works for high-flying property tycoon Barney McCarthy, since first meeting him. She enjoys managing her busy domestic life and two children, Annie and Brian; her friends, like Gertie, whose husband beats her; Colm, who’s opened a restaurant nearby and worries about his drug-addicted sister; and Rosemary, a beautiful, unmarried businesswoman who owns one of No. 32’s new apartments. But the summer when Annie is fourteen and Brian nine, Ria learns that Danny has been dallying with a “fancy woman,” now pregnant with his child, and that he wants to marry her. Stunned, Ria impulsively accepts an American woman’s surprise telephone request to trade houses for the summer. Marilyn, living in New England, is married but still mourning the death of her teenaged son, Dale, and covets time alone. Once ensconced in her Connecticut home, Ria soon makes new friends, finds work as a caterer, and even begins dating—while also learning the truth about Dale’s death. Meanwhile, in Dublin, Ria’s pals continue to drop in, at first overwhelming Marilyn, who gradually involves herself in their lives, grows a garden, and discovers one friend’s unsuspected betrayal of Ria. The two women, each strengthened by her season abroad, meet briefly before Marilyn flies home. Grateful for one another’s support, each feels less heart-sore and more hopeful of happiness ahead. One of Binchy’s best. (Book-of-the-month main selection; author tour)
Another entertaining tale of contemporary Ireland with a big gathering of representative types—the addicted, the lonely, the unhappy—whose lives connect as two chefs start a catering business and cope with crises in work and love.
The story begins on New Year’s Eve and follows the major players through the following year. Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather have been good friends ever since they met at catering school. Tired of doing events out of their own small kitchens, they want a place with an office, as well as enough storage room for a joint company. Cathy is married to Neil Mitchell, an idealistic lawyer, whose mother Hannah cannot forgive Cathy, the daughter of the Mitchells’ former housekeeper, for marrying her son. Soon after her latest acrimonious encounter with her mother-in-law, Cathy and Tom find the ideal premises for Scarlet Feather. While they complete the necessary renovations and begin drumming up business, their lives are complicated by family problems. Cathy finds herself taking care of nine-year-old twins Simon and Maud, who have been abandoned by their parents, Neil’s uncle and aunt; planning a wedding for her sister; and dealing with Neil’s obsession with his work and her unexpected pregnancy. In the meantime, Tom breaks up with his girlfriend Marcella, who heads for London and the modeling career she’s dreamed of. Scarlet Feather is robbed and vandalized. Then, as Christmas nears, Cathy suffers a miscarriage, and Neil’s cool response leads her to question her marriage. As their debts mount, Scarlet Feather faces bankruptcy. But the twins, now living with Cathy’s parents, miraculously save the day, and the new year begins with the abundant promise of good things for those deserving few.
More a buffet with lots of variety and a few standouts than a thematically distinctive menu, but Binchy still serves up a narrative feast.
With some familiar characters amid the new, Binchy offers a sweetly affirming—with just enough redemptive vinegar—read in the story of Quentins, a hot Dublin restaurant.
Ella Brady first dined at Quentins when she was a poised six-year-old and only child of Tim, who worked for an investment broker, and Barbara, a legal secretary, but in her 20s she met Don Richardson, a handsome financier, noted philanthropist, and married him. Ella wasn’t worried about it, as she was badly smitten. But Don was no good—he embezzled his clients’ money as well as that of Tim Brady, who’d been impressed with him—then fled to Spain with his family. Determined to pay her parents back what they’d lost, Ella quits her job as a poorly paid teacher and starts tutoring the memorable twins introduced in Scarlet Feather (2001) as well as working at Quentins, and helping filmmaker friends Nick and Sandy. When Ella comes up with an idea that’s accepted by the prestigious King Foundation in the US—to illustrate the changes in Ireland by telling the story of Quentins—the story detours into key moments in the restaurant’s history: its founding by Quentin Barry, a restaurant employee with big dreams who was helped by an unexpected gift; the hiring as manager and chef of childless couple Brenda and Patrick Brennan; Mon Harris, an Australian waitress, falling in love and marrying a customer; and Nora—the Signora from Evening Class (1997), back from Italy—having her new love celebrated in best Quentins style. Meanwhile, Ella, in New York, meets Derry King, head of the King Foundation, who accompanies her home when she learns that Don has apparently committed suicide—leaving her with his computer, which contains incriminating documents. Ella is soon in danger as Don’s henchman stalks her, but handsome Derry helps, as do all the crew at Quentins.
A leisurely paced treat, filled with holiday goodwill.
Binchy (Quentins, 2002, etc.) inserts questions of faith into her usual romantic braid of multiple storylines, in this case concerning the troubled residents, former residents and descendents of residents of an Irish town where an obscure shrine faces demolition.
Father Brian Flynn, his commitment to the priesthood already shaky, is furious at the superstitious faith people place in the shrine at St. Ann’s Well outside Rossmore, but after visiting the shrine himself, he vows to hear and help his parishioners himself. Then a proposed new highway threatens to run right through the site of the well. The efforts of Father Flynn and his congregants, particularly the saintly Neddy Nolan, whose practical wisdom has been mislabeled as simpleminded, to resolve the highway dilemma form the plot that snakes around a slew of subplots. These are often fully realized stories that stand on their own. Some of the characters actually visit the well, like the two pairs of lovers who together find a perfect living arrangement thanks to the shrine, or like Father Flynn’s sister Judy, who returns home to pray for a husband. Others, like the insane Becca, who arranges for the murder of her romantic rival, and her mother, who sells Becca’s story to the tabloids, live in Rossmore but pointedly do not visit the shrine. The majority share only a geographical connection to Rossmore, as in the case of Emer and Ken. Although their story smacks of heavenly intervention, the intermediary who kindles Emer and Ken’s romance is a gallant cab driver, not St. Ann. In Binchy’s world, well-meaning characters find happiness while an ungrateful son or an adulterous husband can expect comeuppance.
Her sentimental morality may be predictable, but Binchy’s lilting Irish zest is undeniably addictive.
A Dublin heart clinic, full of romantic and family crises in need of healing, provides the apt setting for Binchy’s latest (Whitethorn Woods, 2007, etc.).
St. Brigid’s Hospital opens a cardiac clinic over the fiscal objections of administrator Frank Ennis. Directing the clinic isn’t the big job Dr. Clara Casey wanted, and her mood isn’t improved when long-estranged husband Alan turns up to say his girlfriend is pregnant and he wants a divorce. But soon Clara is enthusiastically involved in redecorating and hiring a crack staff, whose lives intertwine with those of the clinic’s patients in the familiar Binchy landscape of overlapping stories. Young Dr. Declan and Nurse Fiona fall in love. Impoverished but multitalented aide Ania falls for Carl, whose father is an elderly patient. Ania also helps physical therapist Johnny’s friend Father Flynn avoid an unmerited scandal; Binchy fans will enjoy the cameo appearances by this benevolent priest and numerous other characters from earlier books. Clara finally begins divorce proceedings against Alan and becomes romantically involved with a goodhearted, penny-pinching pharmacist. Clara’s assistant Hilary, who can’t bear to put a beloved but failing parent into a home, blames herself when her mother wanders off and is hit by a car. At the clinic’s big fundraiser, Clara and still-shaky Hilary plot to match Clara’s aimless daughter with Hilary’s musician son. Meanwhile, Carl’s snobbish mother attempts to drive a wedge between him and Ania, but he stands up to her. Declan’s engagement to Fiona is tested when Fiona gets cold feet, but Declan’s patience is rewarded. By the time we get to their wedding at Father Flynn’s social center for immigrants, most of the singles have happily coupled off. Even Clara and her archenemy Frank dance the night away. Part of the fun is guessing who will show up in the next book.
Binchy has her formula down pat, and only a curmudgeon could resist this master of cheerful, read-by-the-fire comfort.
A Dublin neighborhood full of many of the characters who frequently pass through Binchy’s Irish novels (Heart and Soul, 2009, etc.) bands together to help a young single father raise his daughter.
Aware she will not survive her baby’s birth, fatally ill Stella tells alcoholic loner Noel that he is the father. He doesn’t remember having actual sex with Stella and is far from certain he wants or can handle the responsibility. But with the help and encouragement of his cousin Emily, in Dublin on an extended visit from New York, Noel stops drinking and takes custody of baby Frankie after Stella’s death at St. Brigid’s Hospital. His transformation from loser to responsible, loving father and his struggle to convince his uptight social worker that he is fit to raise Frankie forms the central plot. But once Noel’s in AA and night school, he pales as a character. After so many novels, Binchy’s recurring characters have become so numerous that even devotees may have trouble keeping track. Here, hospital administrator Frank Ennis is the one to watch as he reaches out to the grown son he never knew he had. As usual, Binchy’s supporting characters steal the show. Social worker Moira seems like the stereotypical uptight bureaucrat at first, but her loneliness and painful self-awareness of her failure to connect to others become increasingly heart-wrenching. Moira has to overcome an unhappy family situation, as does Lisa, a graphic artist who moves in as Noel’s platonic housemate to escape her parents’ sham marriage, although she’s in her own sham love affair with a flashy restaurateur. Circling everywhere, boringly perfect Emily has an uncanny ability to ask the right question and solve problems—everyone in Noel’s life has a story. A dram of sorrow leavens the predictably happy ending.
Binchy remains the queen of spiritual comfort, but this time round she’s stretched interest thin with ups and downs too many and too mild.