Reading this book is like travelling to Ireland all over again, as familiar place names other than Dublin like Aran Island, Kerry, Killaney pop up, although it might not necessarily be referring to the place, like when used in an expression to describe big boobs (as I assume) – a pair of Killarneys.
This is a coming of age story set in 1958 about a group of first-year university undergraduates in Dublin, but especially the long term friendship between two girls, Benny and Eve, from a small village called Knockglen. Benny is the only daughter of a tailor and his wife who are loving yet protective. Eve is an orphan adopted into a convent. Estranged from her rich English grandfather for her parents’ marriage, she hates the Westlands family for disowning her, yet, she fights her way into the family to get her cousin to pay for her university.
At the university, the two girls become good friends with a group of fashionable Dublin students, including Nan and Jack, the golden girl and boy of the university, popular for their good looks and good-natured friendliness. Unknown to many, Nan comes from a low-class family with an alcoholic father who abuses his wife. She harbours an ambition to snag a rich upper-class husband, even to the extend of betraying her friends.
To Benny’s own amazement, Jack falls for her, a big sized country girl. He wants to sleep with her but her strict upbringing as well as that her parents expect her back at Knockglen every evening after school means she has to miss the Dublin nightlife enjoyed by her peers.
This book reminds me of 1970s popular Chinese melodramatic/romantic QiongYao 琼瑶movies starring the two Lins actresses 林青霞/林凤娇 with actors Chin Han and Charlie Chin, usually as undergraduates in love.
Like other Maeve Binchy’s books who doesn’t neglect the co-stars, the book also includes stories of many other small side characters, chiefly from Knockglen, which gives us a perspective of how a small quiet village transforms into a buzzing one with the arrivals of outsiders and immigrants, welcomed by some but to the indignance of others. Everyone knows each other in the village and gossips spread, but there are sensible many who do not indulge in them and are known to be trusting and loyal.
This is a long novel, rare by this author, whose books mostly comprise short tales of individual characters bonded by a common link. I found this book thoroughly enjoyable for its drama and the author’s accurate grasp in describing characters and personality. There are instances though of an abrupt change in POV but I didn’t find these disruptive, as most had clear paragraphs separated by extra spaces. (The editor in me pops up sometimes while reading to note this.)