Review: Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy

By | April 19, 2014

Just round the corner from St Jarlath’s Crescent (featured in Minding Frankie) is Chestnut Street. Here, the lives of the residents are revealed in Maeve Binchy’s wonderfully compelling tales.

Bucket Maguire, the window cleaner, who must do more than he bargained for to protect his son. Nessa Byrne, whose aunt comes to visit from America for six weeks every summer and turns the house – and Nessa’s world – upside down. Lilian, the generous girl with a big heart, and the fiancĂ© not everyone approves of. And Melly, whose gossip about the neighbours leads to trouble in the form of the fortune teller, ‘Madame Magic’…

No one rivals Maeve Binchy for stories of warmth, kindness, love, loss – and life not always turning out as expected.

When I reviewed A Week In Winter last March, I was sad that it was probably the last book we’d see with Maeve Binchy’s name on the cover.  But no – on 24 April, Chestnut Street will be published by Orion in hardback and for Kindle, and I was delighted to secure an advance reading e-copy from the publishers and netgalley.

I think it’s fair to say that this really is one for Maeve Binchy fans – it isn’t a novel, but a series of short stories rather than a coherent whole.  The common element is Chestnut Street, a crescent of thirty houses seen over several decades, but other than the occasional returning character – Kevin the taxi driver has an excellent story of his own where he is witness to the sad end of a marriage, and turns up to drive other residents – there was obviously never the opportunity to edit and update the stories to provide those links that would have tied the book together.  You also sometimes get the feeling that the author might have planned more work on some of the endings – they sometimes tail off a little, with no trademark twist or observation, and that sometimes left you feeling “what was that all about then?”.

But some of the stories are quite perfect. I particularly enjoyed All That Matters, where Nessa is beguiled by the apparent lifestyle of her glamorous Aunt Elizabeth. The Window Box is a wonderful portrait of a penny pinching, embittered and lonely woman watching life happen through her window, Fay’s New Uncle a very touching story about an old curmudgeon whose life is changed when he calls on his niece for help.  My favourite was One Night A Year where four lonely people meet in Gianni’s for a fish supper every New Year’s Eve because they have nowhere else to go. 

The other common element is Maeve Binchy’s wonderful writing – the simple but beautiful flow, the acute observation, the well developed characters (often within very few pages). This book is long, 400 pages, and I think I would have liked it more if some of the less developed stories had been omitted. But it was a lovely opportunity for a lifelong fan of her work to see some of her hitherto unpublished material. So very sad that this now really is the end.