Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: A Week in Winter

Reading a Maeve Binchy book is like watching an artist weave a tapestry. One by one the characters are introduced, until you see the full picture and it all comes together to make a beautiful image. She was a master at crafting interesting characters and placing them in a distinctly Irish locale. I say was because this is the very last book Binchy completed, just days before she died in July of 2012. How sad that we will not have any more Binchy books to look forward to. Thankfully, I still haven't read all of her arsenal, so I have a few left to enjoy.

A Week in Winter chronicles the lives of many characters who come together for a week at an Irish retreat called Stone House in Stoneybridge, Ireland. The setting sounds beautiful with its cliff-side walks and caves to explore. We first meet Chicky Starr, a woman who returns from a misguided move to New York, to set up a resort in an old stone house in her home town. She is assisted by Rigger and Orla (each with their own background stories) as she prepares to open for tourists.

The tourists then arrive, bringing John, a famous American film star escaping into the Irish countryside for what he thinks is an anonymous visit, Winnie and Lillian, a mother and her possible future daughter-in-law, and Nicola and Henry, two doctors who are sick of death and their own inabilities to bring forth new life. Other guests include the Swede, Anders, who is trying to escape his father's plans for his involvement in the family business, Nell, a crusty old retired schoolteacher, who seems bent on making everything and everyone miserable like herself, the Walls, who won the trip in a competition, and Freda, a librarian fleeing her own dreadful mistake.

Each character provides its own vignette, with a separate plot and story arc, but they all come together in the seaside town of Stoneybridge. Binchy has done it again and I thoroughly enjoyed peering into the lives of these interesting characters. My only complaint with the audio version is that the narrator (while always providing that excellent Irish accent I crave when I listen to a Binchy book) makes the American characters sound like complete drudges. Books on Tape would do well to hire a separate person to read the American character bits.

If you've never read a Maeve Binchy book, or if you are even slightly interested in Ireland, or if you love books which focus on characters more than plot, you must try one of her books. I can't think of which one to recommend first, since they are all good. Perhaps, one of these days, I'll set a goal to read them all in the order in which they were written (since many of the characters and places carry over into other books). The only thing better than a couple of months holed up with the assortment of Binchy's books (29 novels, novellas, and short story collections according to Wikipedia) would be the opportunity to read them while in Ireland. Now that would be something! Someone should establish a Binchy week in winter and tour the places Binchy describes while incorporating readings from her various books.

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