A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy – a #BookReview – #readingirelandmonth20

A co-read with the CE. One of us loved this one more than the other.

March and Reading Ireland Month

Book Blurb:

Stoneybridge is a small town on the west coast of Ireland where all the families know one another. When Chicky Starr decides to take an old, decaying mansion set high on the cliffs overlooking the windswept Atlantic Ocean and turn it into a restful place for a holiday by the sea, everyone thinks she is crazy. Helped by Rigger (a bad boy turned good who is handy around the house) and Orla, her niece (a whiz at business), Chicky is finally ready to welcome the first guests to Stone House’s big warm kitchen, log fires, and understated elegant bedrooms. John, the American movie star, thinks he has arrived incognito; Winnie and Lillian are forced into taking a holiday together; Nicola and Henry, husband and wife, have been shaken by seeing too much death practicing medicine; Anders hates his father’s business, but has a real talent for music; Miss Nell Howe, a retired schoolteacher, criticizes everything and leaves a day early, much to everyone’s relief; the Walls are disappointed to have won this second-prize holiday in a contest where first prize was Paris; and Freda, the librarian, is afraid of her own psychic visions.

Sharing a week with this unlikely cast of characters is pure joy, full of Maeve’s trademark warmth and humor. Once again, she embraces us with her grand storytelling.

This ebook edition includes photos from the landscape of A WEEK IN WINTER and a Reading Group Guide. 

My Thoughts

A favorite Irish author the world over was Maeve Binchy who wrote this book, her last, before her death in 2012 at the age of 72. The book became a tribute to her work spanning (according to Goodreads) 173 distinct works. Her distinctive storytelling style scored thousands of fans. This is my first experience with the author.

A Week in Winter by Maeve BinchyA Week in Winter tells the story of a large cast of characters, but stems from Chicky (Geraldine) Starr of Stoneybridge, Ireland. Chicky is a girl with wild ideas and meeting a young American with the same kind of free-wheeling ideas, followed him to America. When he left her with only the clothes on her back, she managed to find room, board, and employment at a boarding house and gradually saved money.

When an opportunity opens back in Ireland to buy an old “gentlemen’s home,” she is intrigued with the idea of turning it into a B&B, quaint, gorgeous views of the Atlantic, and good food at Stone House. But that doesn’t happen by herself, or the remaining sister of three who formerly owned the property. So begins the tale of gathering personnel and eventually the opening guests.

“Working all the hours that God sends us.”

The well-plotted tale reverts (sometimes years) to establish the backgrounds and lives of people who will eventually populate Stone House. There are outbuildings to restore and land that will accommodate animals and years of work ahead and in the meantime gather Rigger and Orla (a niece). Then proceeds to find the opening week’s guests; John, a movie star; Winnie and her future mother-in-law Lillian; Henry and Nicola, doctors; Anders, a businessman who prefers music; the Walls, celebrating their silver anniversary; Miss Howe, irascible retired school principal; and Freda, a psychic librarian.

Everyone comes damaged, at a crossroads, in conflict, unhappy, at odds, or seeking well-deserved peace and are then welcomed into the newly opened facility. Each new character(s) create a short-story that don’t particularly interact with the rest of the guests with the exception of a common breakfast or dinner. Miss Howe, never content anywhere having led a desperately sad and lonely life experiences no epiphany and leaves early. All the others have a great and life-changing week and sweeps the reader into a conclusion with just the slightest epilogue of each.

I just finished a book with a strong character study and almost the same number to keep track of, separated into their own stories, as this was done. The plot to rehab an old estate into an exclusive B&B offering an authentic Irish experience also vaguely familiar, although descriptions of the area conjure up real, well-developed characters with windy, salty faces, and overcoat weather in small atmospheric villages. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. The storyline keeps you reading–but it isn’t wholly new. 4/5 stars

His Thoughts

A masterful representation of life during earlier times. Ms. Binchy has captured the essence of life in rural Ireland and family struggles. It opened many memories of my childhood and the inter-familial relationships and struggles my family experienced when I was a child.

Each of the characters could be members of my own extended family. Loves hoped for and hearts broken are coupled with basic behavioral issues from less than perfect role models. Her characters portray the very essence of problems faced by most people in developing relationships.

Running off to America to be with a man who expressed deep undying love for Chicky starts the saga. As we all know, love is fickle. Left alone after five months Chicky has to develop a story for the loss of a person who said he loved her. The theme is replete throughout the book. Men are not shown in their best light, but then again, men can be very fickle.

A Week in Winter by Maeve BinchyThe central thread is a large property called Stone House outside the village of Stoneybridge. The property is refurbished by Chicky and her niece as well as bad boy Rigger. As the property is developed, so develops the strengths and weaknesses of the characters. Rigger is a young delinquent who turns his life around and becomes key to the success of Stone House. Each additional character faces their own challenges and lessons to be learned from life.

The overall impact of this novel is to embrace the effect of life itself. Everyone has challenges and struggles in life. The richer family near Stoneybridge spends a fortune only to fall upon hard times during a large business downturn. They wind up with a large subdivision of unsold houses and a diminished reputation as developers.

The overall impression I came away with was that all of us seem to have similar life experiences. As they worked to develop the property and create a successful business, their fortunes were actually the result of the effort put into helping each other as well as striving for success. Helping others achieve success develops our own karma. Stoneybridge ultimately succeeds because each character gives more effort to further the cause and others than pursue their own ambitions. Many of the male figures tend to be self-absorbed and selfish.

My hat is off to the author and her insights into family relationships and struggles. Thanks for the memories and refresher course! 5 stars

Book Details:

Genre: British and Irish Literary Fiction, Literary Sagas
Publisher: Anchor

  • ISBN-10:0307475506
  • ISBN-13:978-0307475503
  • ASIN: B009MYARTO

Print Length: 418 pages
Publication Date: February 13, 2013
Source: Local Library Digital Loan
Title Link: A Week in Winter

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Rosepoint Publishing: Four point Five of Five Stars 4.5-stars

Maeve Binchy - Irish authorThe Author: (Amazon author page) Maeve Binchy is the author of numerous best-selling books, including Nights of Rain and Stars, Quentins, Scarlet Feather, Circle of Friends, and Tara Road, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. She has written for Gourmet; O, The Oprah Magazine; Modern Maturity; and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. She and her husband, Gordon Snell, live in Dalkey, Ireland, and London.

(Goodreads author page) Maeve Binchy was born on 28 May 1940 in Dalkey, County Dublin, Ireland, the eldest child of four. Her parents were very positive and provided her with a happy childhood. Although she described herself as an overweight child, her parents’ attitude gave her the confidence to accept herself for who she was.

She studied at University College Dublin and was a teacher for a while. She also loved traveling, and this was how she found her niche as a writer. She liked going to different places, such as a Kibbutz in Israel, and she worked in a camp in the United States. While she was away, she sent letters home to her parents. They were so impressed with these chatty letters from all over the world that they decided to send them to a newspaper. After these letters were published, Maeve left teaching and became a journalist.

Maeve married Gordon Snell, writer and editor of children’s books. When they were struggling financially, Light a Penny Candle was published, which made her an overnight success. Many of her books, such as Echoes, are set in the past in Ireland. Some of her later novels, such as Evening Class, take place in more modern times. Her books often deal with people who are young, fall in love, have families, and deal with relationship or family problems. The main characters are people whom readers can empathise with.

She passed away on 30 July 2012, at the age of 72.

Her cousin Dan Binchy is also a published writer, as is her nephew Chris Binchy.

©2020 V Williams V Williams

When All Is Said: A Novel by Anne Griffin – a #BookReview #readingirelandmonth20

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER & INDIE NEXT PICK”

One of Goodreads’ 43 Most Anticipated Reads of 2019

March

Book Blurb:

“I’m here to remember–all that I have been and all that I will never be again.”

If you had to pick five people to sum up your life, who would they be? If you were to raise a glass to each of them, what would you say? And what would you learn about yourself, when all is said?

At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual ­- though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.

Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerful and poignantly laid bare.

Beautifully heart-warming and powerfully felt, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said and done.

My Review:

When All Is Said by Anne GriffinOh, man, it’s painfully obvious I haven’t a literary appreciation bone in my body. There’s been hype galore, tons of five-star reviews, and really, it’s a rather remarkable novel–a debut–for heaven sake that’s stirred all the fuss. So what’s wrong with me that I had such a dreadful time getting through it? There were bouts of boredom, but still…if I was supposed to close the book and have a favorable impact hit me–that failed as all I felt was relief. I finished it. It was depressing. I don’t feel good. I feel relief.

You’ve read the blurb. You know it’s about an 80+ year old man, Maurice Hannigan, in a bar waxing poetic on the five greatest influences of his life. His wife, number one, whom he lost two years previous. But no, he doesn’t start the toasts with his wife. He does as so many octogenarians do–revert to his childhood–memories of how it all got started–and where it went off the rails. And why.

So there is

  1. Tony, his brother
  2. Molly, his daughter
  3. Doreen, his sister-in-law
  4. Kevin, his son
  5. Sadie, his wife

When All Is Said by Anne GriffinBecause of little then known dyslexia, he is forced to drop out of school at age ten to work on the same farm as his mother, owned by the Dollards. They are cruel and abusive but it is because of one small blip in time that the path of his life leaves him bitter and twisted and at this age, driven with regrets.

The author is an excellent storyteller–weaving the story of each component of his life with the stilted view of either his youth or the man he eventually becomes bent on retribution until he realizes it colored all his remaining relationships. It appears he is directing his thoughts to his son, although heaven knows his son isn’t there and I’ve no idea where, if any words were spoken aloud, that he might have found a sympathetic ear. Perhaps a stranger sitting close, but even then, the bar mate would have called for the next drink and found another seat.

I went hunting for Irish authors for Reading Ireland Month and saw this. It was available as a digital loan from my library and I was excited. I read a number of reviews and thought it sounded unique. It was. As with any authentically senior person, he tends to belabor the story, using a thousand words when a couple hundred would have done it. But you learn in some depth who each of the characters are and how they helped mold Maurice. Several were tragic. And the problem is–even at the beginning of the book–you know where this is going. There is to be only one ending. Gees, I’m too close to this whole thing and it’s a downer I don’t need or want to face yet.

Taken on merit, I understand why the acclaim, the interest, the success. The author’s writing style, while superfluous at times, wove a heart-rending story,  but too close for comfort. Although a powerful retrospective, because we know how it ends, the reader is rendered no hope for absolution from the beginning.

“…we were no different from our American cousins–the same things matter the world over: saving face and money.”
“I only ever wanted to belong to one person and she wasn’t in that room.”
“I didn’t need him to do anything other than just be alive. Is it the same for you?”

Mercy!

 Book Details:

Genre: Contemporary Literary Fiction, British and Irish Literary Fiction, Romance Literary Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Dunn Books

  • ISBN-10:1250251338
  • ISBN-13:978-1250251336
  • ASIN: B07D2C31WC

Print Length: 324 pages
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Source: Local Library Digital Loan
Title Link: When All Is Said 

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Rosepoint Publishing:  Four of Five Stars 4-stars

Anne Griffin - authorThe Author: Anne Griffin is an Irish novelist living in Ireland. Anne was awarded the John McGahern Award for Literature, recognising previous and current works. Amongst others, she has been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Sunday Business Post Short Story Award.

Anne’s debut novel ‘When All Is Said’ will be published by Sceptre in the UK and Ireland on 24th January, 2019 and by Thomas Dunne Books in the US and Canada on the 5th March, 2019. It will also be published by Rowohlt Verlag in Germany, Delcourt in France, by Harper Collins Holland in the Netherlands, by Wydawnictwo Czarna in Poland, and by Tyto Alba in Lithuania .

©2020 V Williams V Williams