I grew up with Maeve Binchy’s books. My Mum first handed me a battered copy of Circle of Friends when I was in my teens and in a way it was the perfect novel for me at that time in my life. Two best friends grow up together, leave their small village together, meet the world together. The novel was about friendship and unrequited love, first kisses, first dances, fashion issues and nuns- you know, the usual coming of age stuff. I have that old copy still, along with others- Firefly Summer and Light a Penny Candle, which, together with Circle of Friends, make my personal Maeve Binchy trifecta. I don’t read them so often nowadays, but I know they’re there on my bookshelf, patiently exuding their warm, comforting presence until I choose to re-read them once again.
There is an innocence, a safeness in, Maeve’s novels. Quaint villages, quirky characters, often set in times past when life was so much simpler and technology was still a thing of the future. I remember being really shocked and affronted when I read one of Maeve’s newer novels, Scarlet Feather, and saw that the characters were using mobile phones. Mobile phones? I ranted (silently) mobile phones in a Maeve Binchy novel? What is the world coming to?
Binchy’s novels often focus on the inhabitants of a small town or village, or a small group of acquaintances in a larger town who are connected to each other in some way, like Quentin’s, which is about a restaurant, and Evening Class which is -yep, you guessed it- about members of an evening class. They involve convoluted, character based plotlines in which characters meet and unwittingly affect each others’ lives, often through chance or coincidence. Friendship, fate, happiness, loneliness, love, family, healing, home- they are all covered.
Binchy’s works often end tidily, which is, I believe, one of their nicest qualities. When you pick up a Maeve Binchy novel, it is with the inherent understanding that no matter how bad things might get, no matter how sad or unlucky or down and out the characters might become, everything will work out in the end. You know that the knot in the plot will be neatly undone, that all the strings will be attached and that all the loose ends will be tied neatly in a (lilac -coloured) bow. And that’s OK; that’s why we read Maeve Binchy, after all- it’s not for the thrill of the thing, but for the comfort, the safety. Reading a Maeve Binchy book is like drinking a cup of tea with an old friend, or eating one of your nan’s homemade biscuits from the same battered biscuit tin she had when you were little, or wandering the cobbles in a tiny Irish town with a rain washed sun warm on your face.
Now that Maeve has gone it’s like a little piece of innocence, of goodness, of lilac-coloured comfort, has left the world.
Thank goodness we still have her books!
Síochán leat, Maeve Binchy, and thankyou