I once read an anthology of Christmas stories while recuperating on the hottest day of the year. Such is the power of Maeve Binchy.
Taking time out from editing my own novel to dust off this blog takes a fair splattering of motivation and the surprising news of Binchy's death after a quick illness resulted in a genuine swallow hard moment. I was a fan and with two books of hers yet to read on my shelves (on a beach somewhere hopefully), I still am.
I first stumbled across her work ten years ago. I picked up Tara Road in a car boot sale in the early noughties, so I'm a bit of a late-comer but sadly for her estate she hasn't profited from my fandom. I've never bought a book of hers from a bookshop but I would like it to be known I was hooked by her Dublin streets.
I wonder, if like all those homeless northeners lured here to London in the eighties by the promise of an Eastenders community spirit, whether the same happened in Ireland. With intertwined characters in neighbouring streets all falling in love but perhaps more importantly, looking out for each other, she sold Ireland to the feckless. We know this sweet and increasingly outmoded image is fallacy but that's the job of the exceptional dramatist, to lure us into a world and make us buy the dream. She managed this.
Accessible and simply written, I wonder if Binchy's books would fit under the 'intelligent women's fiction' umbrella (as adopted by The Bookseller recently, before swiftly disappearing again) because as former Irish Times columnist and London editor, they rarely come smarter than her. Sure, she's no tense experimenter like Maggie O'Farrell or sculptor of the forgotten word like Rachel Cusk, but unlike these two she wrote books I couldn't put down. As an emerging writer myself, I have some idea of how phenomenally difficult this is to achieve.
Maeve Binchy (born County Dublin, 28 May 1940)