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Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy’s final book “A Week in Winter” published posthumously shows her at the height of her powers

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Maeve Binchy

“Then we would set about changing things. End a toxic relationship or commit with hope to a love that had become vague and uncertain. Cut our ties with what might be holding us back or alternatively settle for a life in which there may well be happiness if we know where and how to look.

“It would be simpler if we had these very sure and definite turning points. But does it happen? Not a lot. I think because we are hesitant we resist change we are unsure which direction to take. I wish life could be a series of sudden revelations.” 

Like the great day in 1978 when she suddenly made the connection between smoking four packs of cigarettes a day and not being able to breathe properly, she laughs. 

“I quit smoking five minutes later and never wanted another cigarette. Not everything was as clear-cut for me,” she said.

“I believe that we -- and indeed the characters we write in books -- learn from life. If we are open to it we can see how the blinds on life can be lifted.”

In A Week in Winter those blinds go up in chapter after chapter, which are named for each of the principal characters she's focusing on. In that way the book brings an Irish community to life as she steps in and out of the shoes of each player in the drama. 

There's also a lovely awareness of the ways in which Irish life is reorganizing itself now in the shadow of the collapsed Celtic Tiger economy. To make her point Binchy introduces us to the bloated O'Haras, whose background in banking and finance comes replete with a sense of entitlement that makes you loathe them on sight. 

It's hard not to imagine that she was commenting on the damage that such men did to the national fabric, or in her faith that the Irish people will eventually shrug off their damaging example.

“Life has changed radically in Ireland as elsewhere. Since the end of the Celtic Tiger it would be dishonest to write about a happy go lucky country any more,” Binchy told me last year. 

“There are many worries, and concerns the economy and unemployment cast dark shadows on too many lives. Deep down the Irish did have a caring culture, it was once a place where we knew and valued the need to reach out to others either to help them or when we were in need ourselves. 

“I believe the changed circumstances and the shared anxiety will help us to rediscover those qualities.”

A Week in Winter, published by Knopf, will be released on Tuesday, February 12.

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