Today is a very sad day. I just learned this morning of Maeve Binchy’s death. I had no idea she was ill, as I don’t watch the news much or read magazines. I have to confess to becoming very emotional - it was such a shock. I was too busy wondering when she would hurry up and produce another amazing novel for me to devour.
I remember as a student, having no money to buy books. I honestly didn’t own any books back then, apart from university texts. Back then books were also a lot more expensive than they are now. There were no supermarkets selling books, no Amazon and no ebooks. For the record, I wouldn’t want Maeve’s books in ebook format. I would always prefer the hardback, or in the early days the paperback, which even at that was a stretch for me to afford.
I will never forget the feeling of buying my first hardback book, which was Maeve’s, from WH Smith. It had just come out, I had finished university, had a job and I could go and buy that book as soon as it came out. I didn’t leave the house until it was finished. I completely lost myself in the story.
I cannot fully express the sadness I feel that we will not see more of her existing characters and the introduction of new ones in the future. I loved how every couple of books, Maeve would bring back some of her characters. It always felt like meeting up with old friends.
BUT - the reason for this post is to remember this amazing woman and all of her works. I have a couple of favourites – Circle of Friends comes right at the top and was the first I read. Even the film they later made of it was good. I remember very clearly going to the pictures to see it.
Quentins is another firm favourite – who can forget how Maeve brought back the twins from Scarlet Feather, as well as the Italian lady from Evening Class. The stories that Patrick and Brenda Brennan had to listen to and the shoulder they offered for people to cry on in their restaurant, made me want to go to Dublin and visit it.
Talking of Evening Class, this really is one of my favourites, perhaps because I had just finished my language degree, which included Italian. I also thought at one point about moving to Italy and so was keen to see how the Signora coped with Italian village life. At first she was mistrusted, shunned even. But, even with her secrets, she won the villagers over.
Tara Road and The Lilac Bus also figure highly in my favourites. Really it’s difficult to not go on at length here as I loved all of Maeve’s books. I particularly enjoyed the house swap in Tara Road and wanted Ria’s husband to get his comeuppance. He didn’t deserve her. I also watched the movie which I thought pretty good too, but, naturally, not a patch on the novel.
Loved Tom, the bus driver in The Lilac Bus, with the tales of each of the passengers’ lives and why they were on his bus.
Scarlet Feather introduced us to Cathy and Tom, pulling out all the stops to get their catering business off the ground.
The way Maeve drew her characters in all of her novels was exceptional – so warm and likeable; Benny in Circle of Friends, the slightly chubby girl and her beautiful friend Nan, who did the dirty on her with the man Benny had fallen in love with. And yet once Benny got over her grief, she stood by her friend, who was just trying to escape life with an abusive father. I can recall Benny taking the bus home every Friday, not being able to stay in Dublin and party with her friends and boyfriend in the big city. She was the dutiful daughter who had to work Saturdays in her father’s store.
And Maeve also knew how to depict characters who inspired hatred and scorn, like slimy Sean, who wanted Benny’s father’s business and planned to marry Benny to get it.
There are so many excellent books to read out there and I don’t re-read books often as a result. I have already re-read several of Maeve’s and intend to read them again now, in chronological order. I even read The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club four years ago when I was finishing my own novel, to get tips from her. She has been a true inspiration to me.
I am sure Maeve’s writing encouraged and influenced many of the Irish bestselling authors we see nowadays who have built their own followings and who are also among my favourite authors. And of course there are many, many non-Irish writers who will have been impacted by her too.
Maeve, for me, was the first of the Irish contemporary women’s fiction writers to make her mark. She was so much more than a chick-lit author, teaching us about the family dynamic, relationships between family members, lovers and friends and how her characters coped with moral dilemmas and what life threw at them. She handled serious and delicate issues such as gambling, alcoholism, domestic violence, among many others.
She will be sorely missed and I hope often celebrated
I would love if you could leave your comments about your favourite Maeve Binchy book, character or scene, so that we can all share and remember this wonderful woman and author