Maeve Binchy is my favourite woman author. I have almost all of her books. When I saw this shrink-wrapped paperback title at the Big Book Shop @ Clementi selling for only at $9, my first thought was that it was her new book and what a bargain.
This is actually one of her earlier books, first published in 1994. My friend TSF found her earlier books written much better and I agree.
Like all her books, this book incorporates many characters, a difficult feat for a writer as she would have to remember each and everyone’s personalities, quirks, history, occupations, etc. Her vivid portray of them are very realistic, many of whom I could easily identify with the people around me.
The book is set in a small village called Lough Glass in Ireland in 1952 – 1958, a village so small its population lives along both sides of just one main road. It begins with the friendship between two twelve-year-old girls, Kit and Clio. Like a Korean drama, we follow the ups and downs of the villagers. The reader is never left out of any scene changes, regardless of how small, as the drama unfolds.
This 561-page-book is not a page-turning thriller, but it nevertheless kept me hooked. After a brief introduction to all the characters, where we sort of learn about their backgrounds and characters, the buildup starts with the disappearence of Kit’s mother, Helen, a beauty who was an outsider but settled down in Lough Glass after marrying Kit’s father, Martin, a boring pharmaceutical who despite knowing that his wife’s heart lies with another man, loves her dearly. They saw their family boat overturned at the lake and immediately concluded that Helen had drown. Helen had infact left a note to Martin, telling him that she had left him to go back to her old lover because she was pregnant. Kit had found the letter, assumed that it was a suicide note, burnt it so that her mother’s body, if found, would be allowed to be buried in the church’s cemetary. This was the 50’s and the village is catholic, where suicide is a sin.
Helen went off with her lover, Louise and they settled in London as a ‘married couple’, where she found a job in a placement office. For the next five years, she transformed herself into this career woman and helped build her company into a huge corporation. Now known as Lena Gray, wife of Hotel Manager Louise Gray. She misses her children, Kit and Emmet, and decided to write to Kit as Lena, Helen’s friend. They forged a friendship until Kit decided to go to London after her leaving examination to look for Lena and found Helen instead.
Meanwhile, Martin had married Clio’s aunt Maura, but Lena could never marry Louise, since Helen was technically dead. The characters are lovable, even if you get exasperated at times with one or two, just like real life, but they are never really wicked. Perhaps selfish, snobbish or just plain silly.
Reading this book brings me back in time, where to contact a person requires a telephone operator to connect you, and in an emergency, one may have to drive all the way to look for a person with no phone. However, something never really change through time. Premarital sex is deeply frowned on in the Catholic village, yet many had shot gun marriages despite the family’s strict upbringing.
Maeve Binchy is familiar with human psychology, for her characters can make any bad situations appear good just by a twist of words, and credit is given for her clever dialogues and easy narration.
Like I’ve said, it read like a well-scripted Korean drama.