Yes, I’m still alive and reading if not kicking. February and March have been busy, work is doing my head in, the 6 Nations nearly broke my heart (and the last game probably didn’t help my blood pressure) and I’m trying to sort out a few existential questions in my life.
But as I said, I’ve been reading. I mentioned previously (here) that I discovered Maeve Binchy at the start of the year. And so, since February I have been going through her books as fast as possible. I don’t think I’ll write reviews of all of them, but I will at least write something about those I really liked.
But first, a few lines to explain why I’m enjoying Binchy’s books so much. First, there is an almost Balzac-like quality to her books in that some characters keep reappearing. It gives the reader the impression of reading about a large family, or a community he is part of. Having lived in Ireland and in Dublin in particular, I do not find that fake as I’ve noticed that Dublin is a sort of big village where everybody may not be related to each other but tries to find some way to relate to the people they meet. The relatively small size of the city also means that it is quite frequent to come across people you know during your day. Joyce showed it, and it hasn’t changed so much in a century.
Then, there is the constant optimism of her writing. Binchy doesn’t describe a fake world where everything is rosy. There are dramas, death, unfairness in her books. But in the end, you know that things that can be fixed will be fixed. Not perfectly but they will improve.
And finally, I enjoy very much her description of communities, of the value of solidarity. The emphasis she puts on it is very Irish I think, but it is nevertheless an important message to pass along: we’re always stronger when we’re part of a group.
So now for a few ‘reviews’ (aka ramblings)
The Copper Beech
The book takes place in the 50s (I think) in rural Ireland. The local school has on its ground a copper beech on which the children carve their initials or a message the day they leave school. The book follows the life of a some of these children, their dreams, their dramas, their successes and their failures.
All ‘classes’ of society are represented, from the poor people from the cottages to the girl from the big house. There is a strong emphasis on the fact that people who believe in themselves can do almost anything, no matter what their background is. As usual, the good people get rewarded and there is a strong emphasis on the importance of living in a community.
At the start I wasn’t enthralled by this book but as I kept reading, I got more and more drawn into it, wanting to know what was going to happen to the characters and how it would all end. It is a happy book and a very optimistic one too.
We’re now moving to a completely different setting. Bye-bye rural Ireland and hello Celtic Tiger Dublin. Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather are starting their catering business. Cathy is married to Neil, a very successful human right lawyer from a rather rich and very snobbish family and Tom is living with his girlfriend who wants to be a model. And in their busy lives arrive the twins, Simon and Maud. They are Neil’s 9-year old cousins, their parents have almost abandoned them, they have no idea how to behave in society and will have a big impact on everybody’s life.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The background story of the setting up of a catering business is fascinating and the other themes (women and their careers, men and their careers, family and work, money and happiness, what makes a family etc…) are all very well handed. And more than anything, it is the book that introduces Maud and Simon. These two characters will appear in other books (Quentin’s, Heart and Soul, Minding Frankie) and they are among my favourite characters. They’re really special but very endearing too. A bit like Quentin’s (that I will review later. Promise), it’s a fascinating book on the power of food too and on how important it is to people’s lives.