If you haven’t heard of Irish novelist Chris Binchy yet don’t worry, that’s all going to change soon. Five Days Apart, his fourth novel -- but his all-important U.S. debut -- is a deceptively simple thwarted love story that will have you laughing and weeping at the antics of the all too recognizable young Irish man at its center.
Told in a straightforward, you-are-there prose that conjures contemporary Dublin in a few sentences, Binchy (the nephew of the best-selling Irish novelist Maeve Binchy) casts a spell from the first page. Harper Collins, his U.S. publishers, have picked the perfect summer read to introduce him to America.
The story is, on the surface, an old one. One day David sees Camille, a gorgeous young woman, at a party. But he’s tongue tied and over-cautious and he can’t make a move.
Instead he asks his best friend since childhood Alex to introduce him. That decision turns out to be a fatal mistake.
Within a week good looking Alex is dating the beautiful Camille, and David is clawing himself with envy. Their longstanding friendship suffers, David suffers, and there doesn’t seem to be a thing he can do about it.
In this way Five Days Apart reads like a fairly conventional guy meets girl and instantly loses her to best mate tale, replete with all the angst and heartbreak that implies.
But Binchy is a far more subtle and insightful writer than that. In Ireland, where he’s a best-selling author, Binchy, 40, is also known as a hardworking journalist contributing features to The Irish Times, The Sunday Times, the Sunday Independent and the Evening Herald.
Add to that career trajectory his previous incarnations as an embassy researcher, a painter, hotel manager and even a stint as a trained sushi chef, Binchy’s multiple interests have shown him the inner working of Dublin, and this awareness shines through on every page.
Poor forlorn David, pipped at the post by his own fretful nature, has to watch the relationship between his best friend and the woman he adores blossom.
Worse, they keep on asking him to accompany them on their nights out, because -- and he finds this hard to swallow -- they both really like him. It’s bad enough losing the girl, he figures, but then being held hostage, week after week, to see their happiness growing though his own eyes is a particularly cruel punishment.
David has a shy nature, and gets tongue tied around the opposite sex, but Alex is his exact opposite and can charm anyone with ease.
After Alex hits it off with Camille David is left to wonder why his friend would betray him, and he deals with it by throwing himself into his new information technology job where he impresses a few important people along the way. All the while, though, we know that David’s passion for Camille is a ticking time bomb that sooner or later is bound to explode.
So what do you do when something you dearly want can never happen, at least not in a way that will protect your self-respect? How much are you prepared to overlook in your pursuit of personal happiness? How much are you willing to lose?
What about how your decisions will affect other people? Is that a consideration at all, or should you just let the chips fall where they may?
It’s timeless questions like these that haunt Five Days Apart. Binchy writes about deep friendships between straight Irish men with unusual honesty, making his characters all the more recognizable.
It’s the bonds of the longstanding friendship between David and Alex that prevent them from giving up on each other when a particularly seductive woman enters the picture, and most of the drama of the novel is supplied by the tension between their longstanding affection and this new one.
Behind the love triangle Binchy also writes about post-Celtic Tiger era Dublin with such a shrewd eye it’s almost like seeing the place for the first time. He captures the abandoned upscale bistros, the empty financial centers and the shuttered gymnasiums with a gimlet eye.
“I never believed in it anyway. We always knew this would happen,” he writes.
In most love stories, love is a balm that takes the sharper edges off reality. But in Five Days Apart it’s more like a glass of cold water to the face. Binchy has written a captivating tale that lingers in the memory long after you put it down.
Five Days Apart is published by Harper, $24.99.