Saturday, July 9, 2011
Book Review: Minding Frankie
I really cannot believe how long it has been since I've read a book by Maeve Binchy. She is a fabulous writer and has that rare Dickensian gift of being able to people a landscape with her fully embodied characters so that you feel you live right alongside them and share in their joys and sorrows. Minding Frankie continues that tradition, tying in characters previously encountered and introducing new ones.
I listened to this Binchy book. In the past, Binchy's books have been ones that I prefer to hear delivered with an accent. However, I think that I would have preferred reading this one for myself. In Minding Frankie, Binchy introduces an American relative who has come to Ireland to visit her family and ends up staying and transforming the lives in the neighborhood of St. Jarlath's Crescent. Plus, there is another character who turns up from New Zealand, claiming to be an unknown son. This narrator did a fine job with the variety of Irish accents; however, I didn't really care for her presentation of the American or New Zealand. The American, Emily, ends up with a simpering sort of voice that didn't really seem to jive with her character. The New Zealand character also seemed forced, with too many pauses and inflections.
In my opinion, Binchy did not need to introduce the American character into the scene. The Dublin set are perfectly fine without bringing in a foreigner who came off with superhuman powers of observation, organization and inspiration. Emily was, perhaps, too perfect.
Regardless of the narration and possibly unnecessary character, this was again a Binchy masterpiece. The story centers around an unmotivated fellow named Noel who discovers that he has fathered a child during one of his drunken sprees. The mother, on her deathbed, begs him to care for Frankie and keep her out of the foster system. At first Noel chooses denial, but eventually the awareness of his responsibility for this child leads him to shake off his alcoholic tendencies and apply himself in ways that no one ever thought possible.
Unfortunately, the social worker, Moira, doesn't fully believe Noel is the best fit for the child. She is determined to dig up some dirt on Noel so that she can place Frankie in a "more suitable environment." Noel surrounds himself with a whole network of people in the neighborhood who help to care for and love Frankie. In the process of minding Frankie, many characters discover that nurturing a child centers life in a powerful way.
I'm thrilled that I can pick up this most recent Binchy book without necessarily having read some of the books in between. Each of her books does a fine job of standing alone. But they also provide an enduring legacy for characters we meet again and again in the landscape of her fiction.