zalena (zalena) wrote,

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

I don't know how Maeve Binchy became one of my favorite authors. I ignored her books for years, read a few, ignored them more, and then somehow found myself reading them all, recommending them to others and having favorites. Her last book Minding Frankie I wept over, even long after I'd finished reading it. For me, it seemed an appropriate last title, as a beloved character in it dies, and the central problem relates to a new mother with terminal cancer looking for a home for her baby.

When Maeve died, Minding Frankie became even more prescient... it seemed right that it was a last book. And how it deals with a community coming together to fill the various holes left behind... Even as we all grieved that there wouldn't be anymore cozy titles coming from the beloved author.

Anyway, last week a new title turned up A Week in Winter. I just finished it. Classic Binchy, though not as good as Minding Frankie, it's solid and complete (though one suspects there was a sequel in the works.)

Binchy has this gift for creating these interrelated communities and people overcoming habit and custom and prejudice to form families, even if they aren't the traditional type of blood kin. Her books have this great hope in it that the world really is full of decent people and that no one is irredeemable (except, perhaps, rich people who are mean to their children; and men who abandon their women, whether wives or lovers, it's viewed the same.)

In Binchy's books there is always this undercurrent that life is hard and people are poor and the custom of the land is harsh. A Week in Winter is about a young Irish girl who moves to the states with an American tourist where she is quickly abandoned. Too embarrassed to tell her Catholic family, she stays and works on in a boarding house for 20 years before finally returning to her hometown and opening a bed and breakfast.

Her books contain this repeated theme of shame and lifelong hardship due to youthful indiscretion. But always, it seems, things come all right in the end. The older people offer hope and good advice to the young ones. The young ones usually listen. Everyone finds someone to love, even if it is a good friend, a child, or an animal. And everyone is warm and well fed and has a safe place to sleep.

If this is not the good life, I don't know what is. And I think people need this reassurance that love can happen to ordinary people in extraordinary ways. That there is hope beyond past experience and present hardship. And that our communities can help carry us through the hard times if we let them. Even if her books often leave me feeling that I don't know quite as many fabulously warm and successful people in the hospitality service as I would like, they also leave me feeling like I am connected to a community of readers worldwide who are all hoping for the same thing.

I don't know what else to say. My favorite title is probably Minding Frankie because it felt so real. But as it involves characters from many other books, I usually recommend Whitethorn Woods as a great starting place/standalone title. And if you are already a Binchy fan and didn't know about it A Week in Winter will allow you to enjoy her brand of cozy sentiment one last time.
Tags: books
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