Maeve Binchy died two weeks ago at the age of 72 on July 30, 2012. I don’t know if you ever read Maeve Binchy’s books, but for a while they were “all the thing”, our little window into modern Ireland. The Irish settings in these books clearly reflected Maeve Binchy’s own slice of life, her relatively normal, down-to-earth, Dubliner slice of life.
Circle of Friends was the first book I read by Maeve Binchy (I think it was her first novel). Here’s the library summary: It began with Benny Hogan and Eva Malone, growing up, inseparable, in the village of Knockglen. Benny – the only child, yearning to break free from her adoring parents… Eve – the orphaned offspring of a convent handman and a rebellious blueblood, abandoned by her mother’s wealthy family to be raised by nuns. Eve and Benny – they knew the sins and secrets behind every villager’s lace curtains…except their own. It widened at Dublin, at the university where Benny and Eve met beautiful Nan Mahon and Jack Foley, a doctor’s handsome son. But heartbreak and betrayal would bring the worlds of Knockglen and Dublin into explosive collision. Long-hidden lies would emerge to test the meaning of love and the strength of ties held within the fragile gold bands of a…Circle of Friends.” So it’s a coming of age story set in Ireland in the 1950’s. I’m sure it appealed to girls much more than to boys and it had an element of village gossip about it. Circle of Friends was made into a movie with Minnie Driver playing Bernadette ‘Benny’ Hogan.
On Maeve’s own page she writes: “My memory of my home was that it was very happy, and that there was more fun and life there than there was anywhere else.” “And even though I was fat and hopeless at games, which are very unacceptable things for a schoolgirl, I was happy and confident. That was quite simply because I had a mother and a father at home who thought I was wonderful. They thought all their geese were swans. It was a gift greater than beauty or riches, the feeling that you were as fine as anyone else.”
She explains that she ruined her mother’s plans to marry her to a nice doctor or barrister because she liked holidays not favored by important people such as working on the decks of cheap boats or in kibbutzim in Israel or as a camp counselor in the United States. But her parents loved the letters she sent home and had them published in the local newspaper. She says, “And that’s how I became a writer.”
She did marry, Gordon Snell, also a writer and she had a wonderful life. Do you have to experience great angst to become a writer? It may depend on what kind of writing you want to do. Maeve Binchy was satisfied with stories about small towns and human interaction and I enjoyed a number of her books and felt that I was transported to Dublin and its environs every time. Besides Circle of Friends, I remember reading The Lilac Bus, The Copper Beech, Scarlet Feather, Quentins, and Tara Road. I’m guessing these books still hold up as good stories about people who happen to be Irish and that Maeve Binchy’s legacy will live on.