Discovering Maeve Binchy’s writing this last week was similar to when I discovered Amy Tan’s writing a few years ago: their books were read from cover to cover nearly non-stop, after which I went out and bought as many more books of theirs that I could find.
My aunt in Delhi sent Tara Road for me to read a few weeks ago, but I only picked it up to read last Thursday after having just completed the melancholic Brideshead Revisited (It was depressingly realistic while being beautifully sad at the same time, that I needed my next book to be very unlike it). One of the reviews on the jacket of Tara Road described Maeve Binchy’s writing as good natured gossip, which I felt I needed after Evelyn Waugh, who’s writing is equally impressive though definitely not gossipy in any way (More on that in another upcoming post).
I found that I quite enjoyed Maeve Binchy’s easy writing style. Her stories seem to be about regular people with regular stories that have been told very, very well.
Tara Road begins with the story of Ria and Danny Lynch, and how they buy their dream home, a sprawling dilapidated Victorian house, on Tara Road, Dublin. It doesn’t take very long for them to renovate the house and transform it into the warm, cozy home they’d envisioned it to be. Their kitchen is constantly abuzz with family and friends. They seem to have the perfect family life. So it comes as quite a shock to Ria when Danny informs her that he hasn’t been happy for a long time and is now leaving her for someone else. Up until now Ria, who hadn’t the slightest idea that their marriage was in trouble, had her life revolving around her family. Without her husband, she feels quite lost and unsure of how to even begin getting on with her life. It’s hardly surprising that when Ria receives a phone call from an American, Marilyn, who’d like to know the possibilities of a house exchange in the summer, she agrees without hesitation. The story goes on to describe the two women’s lives, the new friends they make, the experiences that add to their character, and their learning to cope with the heartache that life sometimes brings.
I actually picked up Quentins because I recognized it as the fancy restaurant frequently mentioned in Tara Road. And I did, in fact, recognize some of the characters. It made it all the more absorbing. Here’s a bit about the book, Quentins.
Ella Brady’s life gets hit by dire circumstances and she is forced to work at 5 jobs, 16 hours a day. One of the jobs she’s working at is with a friend who makes films. When he asks for ideas that might win a prize at a film festival, Ella suggests they make a documentary on the restaurant, Quentins. After all, this restaurant was founded nearly forty years ago. It might be interesting to use it to trace back the changing economy in Ireland along with its people and their changing hopes and aspirations. So while this book begins and ends with Ella, it’s infused with stories about the people connected with Quentins – its staff and customers alike.
I think Maeve Binchy is a very skilled story teller. She writes about the ordinary as if it were extraordinary. There’s so much to feel when reading her books – sad, angry, glad, amused, and, if ‘fuzzy’ is an appropriate word to use here, that also. Her books were a delight to read. I even did a bit of evangelizing at the used book store when I saw two copies of the same book. It was a little shocking when the lady I was talking to said she’d already read Maeve Binchy but preferred Barbara Taylor Bradford and Mary Higgins Clark. It threw me a little off guard. I’m still unsure about exactly which sort of reader might appreciate being recommended a Maeve Binchy book. Nevertheless, I shall try. If you are able to find joy in a story with ordinary complications, but one described charmingly well, with deep insight into human nature (and all that that involves), you may enjoy Maeve Binchy’s works. Her writing really is similar to good-natured gossip and goes well with a bag of chips, cups of tea, biscuits, and the occasional bar of chocolate.