An upbeat biography of the prolific, much-loved Irish writer.
Binchy (1940-2012) wrote about what she knew: love, friendship and community in small Irish towns like Dalkey, where she grew up in a conservative Catholic family. Dudgeon (Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan, 2009, etc.) follows his subject’s hard-won striving to “discover, enhance, and believe” in her own worth. As a child, Binchy suffered from “a crippling self-consciousness” due to her weight; she responded by developing “a self-deprecating brand of humour” that served her well as an adult. As Dudgeon tells it, Binchy’s life was marked by a series of epiphanies. After a student exchange trip to France—her first time out of Ireland—she realized that her worldview was provincial and vowed to travel. At University College Dublin, from which she graduated with only a pass (the lowest rank possible), she discovered burgeoning feminism, beatniks and existentialism. Sartre became her “mentor and life guide.” On a train one day, she took her first drink of alcohol, which enhanced “her rapid-flow delivery of stories, anecdotes and observations on life.” She “rarely lost control” but developed a fondness for gin. Another epiphany occurred during a trip to Israel, where she worked on a kibbutz and took a side trip to Jerusalem to see where the Last Supper had taken place. What she found was a cave, a sight that shocked her so profoundly that she immediately relinquished her Catholic faith. Working as a teacher, Binchy became a writer by accident when her father submitted her travel letters to the Irish Independent. Later, she was offered a job as women’s editor of the Irish Times, for which she wrote for 32 years. Fiction came later, with immediate acclaim.
“The secret of the universe is that we do have to take control of our own lives,” was, Dudgeon claims, Binchy’s lifelong mantra, and he captures her ebullience and drive in this anecdotal biography.