Sunday, January 10, 2010

3. Whitethorn Woods

I usually find Maeve Binchy's books to be an enjoyable read, and Whitethorn Woods is no exception to that. Binchy shines at voice and characterization, painting a vivid picture of small town life in Ireland. In Whitethorn Woods, she unites seemingly unconnected characters by their common interest in a proposed new road that would pass through the site of a sacred well where villagers bring prayers to St. Ann.

However, I don't feel that she unites the characters quite as well in this book as she does in some of her other works, perhaps because she's dealing with such a large cast of characters that are going in many different directions - everywhere from Israel, Italy, New York City, or England, and back to Ireland. Many of the characters are given only a short section in the book, and especially when it comes to some of the more disturbed characters - the murderess, the extortionist brother, the woman who steals a baby - it seems almost sensationalist because it lacks the space to thoroughly explore the characters and their motivations.

Rather than being a novel, it's more a collection of short stories, and some of them are more satisfying than others. I'm still not convinced by the murderess who arranged for a taxi driver who was contemplating suicide to take her boyfriend's newest fling with him, but I enjoyed many of the other stories a great deal: Father Flynn, who struggles with finding a place for himself as a priest in modern society, Maureen and Rivka, the friends who only ever had one secret from each other, Neddy who is "not the sharpest knife in the drawer" and likes it that way, and sixty-year-old Vera who goes on a singles vacation with twenty-year-olds. Their stories are charming, vivid, and real - Binchy, as always, is a master at capturing human emotions on the page.

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