Maeve Binchy’s final book “A Week in Winter” published posthumously shows her at the height of her powers
Cahir O'Doherty reviews Maeve Binchy's last work
She's particularly good at conveying the distances, seductions and tensions that can open between people, and A Week in Winter is unflinching in its honesty.
For years dismissed as a romance writer, real fans of Binchy’s work know that she's never been afraid to tackle the darkest themes, nor are her characters walking paragons of virtue. Instead they're all too human, with all the good and bad that goes with it.
When I asked her last year about her habit of writing characters who contain elements of saintliness and selfishness combined, she laughed in agreement.
“It is more interesting writing about someone who has flaws as well as strengths like the rest of us,” Binchy told the Irish Voice.
“I don’t like these perfect heroes or heroines who look flawless, dress elegantly are highly successful at work and immensely attractive and desirable to everyone they meet. Those kinds of people don’t exist -- or if they do I never met them!”
The women in her books are always spirited and smart as hell and some of the men are too, the way it actually is in Ireland.
Binchy's focus on everyday people, and the ability to see that if you look closely, there is really no such thing as every day people, is why she's so adored by her fans. It helps that's she can be screamingly funny too.
In A Week in Winter Binchy has assembled a likeable group of people who, whether they know it or not (and in the beginning they mostly don't) are looking for a change in their circumstances that will lead them toward the life they always imagined they should be living. In the process they step into themselves.
“In a magic world we could all have eureka moments and see the folly of our ways,” Binchy said last year, referring to the way in which her characters slowly come to a realization about themselves.
“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.
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