Author Maeve Binchy weaves a beautiful Irish tapestry from dozens of disparate stories
By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor
Apr. 10, 2007 - When successful authors are asked for advice on how to write well, most of them will answer like this: “Write what you know.”
In her new book, “Whitethorn Woods,” Maeve Binchy has once again written what she knows best – her beloved Ireland.
She’s been writing about the Emerald Isle since “Light a Penny Candle” was published in 1983. “Tara Road,” “Quentins” and “Scarlet Feather” are some of Binchy’s more popular books.
In “Whitethorn Woods,” Binchy weaves the threads of more than a dozen characters into a most unlikely and surprisingly beautiful tapestry.
All of the characters in Binchy’s book, in one way or another, have connections to the Irish town of Rossmore. More importantly, they all have some tie to Rossmore’s famous tourist attraction, Whitethorn Woods and its shrine to St. Ann, mother of the Virgin Mary.
There’s Father Flynn, a young but harried parish priest. Attendance is down for his daily masses. His mother is in frail health. His sister can’t find a man. His brother has left his wife and four children.
Father Flynn is not looking forward to the upcoming holiday. He “hated the Feast Day of St. Ann with a passion . . .” He just doesn’t understand all the fuss and bother over an old water well in the middle of the forest.
Then, there’s Neddy Nolan. Neddy’s interest in Whitethorn Woods is both personal and financial. The powers that be want to put a traffic bypass through the woods. The new road will run smack through Neddy’s property, making him a rich man. However, Neddy grew up on the land and is not convinced that a new road is a step in the right direction.
Although the townspeople of Rossmore don’t consider Neddy to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, he proves to be one smart cookie. He ends up with land, an inheritance and one of the prettiest girls in Ireland.
�Gold-Star� Clare, makes her own way. She leaves Rossmore at an early age, in part to get away from a creepy uncle, and works her way through the university in Dublin. Her virtue is somewhat compromised, but she finds that telling the truth is always best, especially with the ones you love.
Vera, an aging spinster with cousins from Rossmore, signs up for a what she believes to be a senior citizens’ singles cruise and is surprised to find herself among the younger, hard-body, hard-drinking set. She makes the best of her holiday, finding new friends and a new love in the most unlikely of places.
Binchy introduces Maureen and Rivka, girls who met on a kibbutz in the Negev Desert and forged a lifelong friendship.
Maureen landed on the kibbutz because she “had taught Latin to two little Jewish boys back in Rossmore.” Rivka, a New York City girl, was there because it was the 1960s and upper middle class Jewish parents sent their children there as a way to remember their heritage.
Maureen and Rivka’s friendship grows through the years and they lean on each other through times of joy and sadness.
There’s Becca and her plotting, scheming, social climber mother, Gabrielle.
Becca’s father has run off with a nondescript woman named Iris, “who wore a cardigan and walked through Whitethorn Woods with a mongrel dog.”
Becca works at a Rossmore dress shop and fancies a young man with a wandering eye. How Becca goes about getting what she wants is at once funny and very, very sad. Gabrielle shows her true colors once Becca’s plan falls apart at the seams. Bad mommy. Very, very bad mommy.
Eventually, we hear from Becca’s father. Rossmore’s medical and legal communities figure into the story, too, as do a sad taxi driver with no hope for the future and a couple who hooked up on Vera’s holiday.
Somehow, Binchy is able to meld these seemingly disconnected stories into a relatively cohesive package. There are some twists and turns that may have you backtracking a bit, but not to distraction.