I started my love affair with Maeve Binchy’s writing back in 1982 with the original release of Light A Penny Candle – I still have the book club hardback – and I’ve read (if not always loved) everything she’s written since then. I thought she lost her way just a little around Nights of Rain and Stars and Whitethorn Woods, but she won me back wholly with Heart and Soul. My favourite book ever of hers was Evening Class, and it’s fitting that her last has a very similar style and feel, and even recalls some of my favourite characters.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that this is essentially a book of short stories – a disparate collection of individuals, each with their own story, come together for a week to launch Chicky Starr’s new hotel venture. Some of the stories I loved – Chicky’s own story involving the Sheedy sisters and how she acquired The Stone House, Rigger and his mother Nuala, Orla, Miss Howe (a rare unsympathetic character – “Her Own Worst Enemy”). Others I wasn’t so keen on – the doctor couple weren’t fleshed out enough for me, the competition winning couple (although wryly entertaining) and Anders Almqvist didn’t entirely convince. But, as always, I loved the way the stories were told, and the trademark tweaks that turned a series of short stories into a whole. This unquestionably isn’t one of her very best, but even at less than full power it’s a lovely piece of cuddly, warm escapism that I thoroughly enjoyed.
It’s so very sad that there will be no more… she will be sadly missed.