Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

It was with a profound sadness that I put A Week in Winter on my bookshelf. Since 1982 when I first read Light a Penny Candle, Maeve  Binchy has been one of my favorite authors. With her death in July, 2012, those wonderful books will be published no more. I debated on whether to read this immediately upon delivery or to wait so it was there waiting for me. Binchy's magic spell was cast and in a matter of a couple of days the book was finished. It is a sad state that her stories have now all been told.

Her storytelling is comforting and sophisticated. She can transport a reader to her native Ireland with a few lines of a novel and will then paint a picture that remains long after the book is closed.

A Week in Winter could almost be considered a group of short stories that are all connected through Geraldine "Chicky"Ryan and her new bed and breakfast, the Stone House, located in Stoneybridge, Ireland.  Wooed away from the family home by Walter Starr, Chicky ventures to the United States with her intended. However, years later after struggling to make it on her own, Chicky Starr returns to Stoneybridge with the idea that she will open a resort. With the help of Riggy, Queenie, and the villagers, Stone House Resort becomes reality and Chicky advertises for a special opening offer.
The resort welcomes guests from all points and stages in life: Corry Salinas, an over-the-hill American movie star who is stranded in Ireland when his plane cannot get to Germany for an important meeting, Henry and Nicola, a husband and wife doctor team fresh from a cruise that has left them coping with a devastating death, Miss Howe, a retired school principal gruff and antagonistic, Freda, a librarian betrayed by a man she loved, and Winnie and Lillian, two women thrown together on the trip by the man they both love. Binchy weaves the story of each guest into their arrival and week at Stone House. The technique is fascinating and effective. Names are dropped, but until the reader “meets” the actual visitor, the story is enigmatic.

In inimitable Binchy fashion, the reader meets people who are not perfect, but who are looking for what seems to be that elusive happiness in life. Although after a week, they may not have found it, they are more receptive to what life has to offer and more reflective as to how they can work to achieve a modicum of pleasure. Throughout, Binchy interweaves  some old familiar haunts like Quentin's and some favorite characters who have made such an impression on her readers - Fiona and Declan.  Their presence brings back good memories and causes one to reminisce about her previous novels. I have never been one to reread any books except the classics, but in Maeve Binchy’s books, there is such a feeling of comfort, warmth, and tranquility, I may have to make an exception. There was definitely a tear as I read the final chapter and closed the book.