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Maeve Binchy is an established Irish author who sadly passed away in 2012. She has written quite a few novels and I have read quite a few of them with mixed results. The important thing to remember with Ms Binchy is that she will provide you with a gentle read. There will be no complicated plot twists in her novels, which are very much character driven, and you will not find any rumpy-pumpy here. There are some romantic strands, but sex is something that happens and is not indulged. What you will get is a gentle read with some varied characters in a pretty setting.
The format of this novel will be familiar to those that have read Binchy's books before - each chapter takes a different character and builds up the story (such as it is) over a week. In this instance the setting is a newly opened country hotel on the west coast of Ireland, where a variety of people have come to enjoy a week in winter...
Stone House was the family home of the Sheedy sisters. Now on her own Queenie Sheedy persuades Chicky, a local woman who moved to America, to take it on and turn it into a hotel. Amongst the characters that we meet are Chicky, her old school friend Nuala and her son Rigger and Chicky's niece Orla. On top of this we meet the guests of this first week, which include competition prize-winners, a Swedish accountant and a fading American movie star.
Binchy certainly has the skill to create a well-drawn character, as we really only get a chapter to learn about each person. We get background information to their story, which leads to why they are at the hotel, and in some respects the book is a selection of short stories in which each person ends up at Stone House. There is definitely a knack to this type of story-telling and there is no doubt that Binchy has it. I had read some of her books previously and was disappointed that a few peripheral characters seemed to pop up again across novels. Regular readers may enjoy this, but I found it a tad self-indulgent and felt I was an outsider in a clique, wondering if I was missing some in-joke. Thankfully I didn't get that feeling in this book, and there seemed to be only a few references to past characters that I recognised (die hard fans may spot more).
I had been reading quite a bleak book and once it got to Christmas Eve I found I wanted something a bit lighter, so picked this off my kindle as a friend had recommended it to me very highly. For that time of year, when I had some quiet periods relaxing at my parents' home, I was able to take some time out to read and this book really ticked the boxes of what I was looking for at the time. As much as I enjoyed it, I won't say it is the best read I have had recently, just that it was perhaps the 'right' read. If you are not familiar with Binchy's style you may find the book a bit slow and old-fashioned (it makes modern day west coast Ireland sound like it is stuck in a time-warp), and some happenings a bit odd. At 480 pages I was surprised I got through it in two days, but it was such an easy read which sometimes suits the mood we are in. Overall, I think this gentle, unassuming last novel may be a comfort blanket during the melancholic winter months.
RRP - £7.99
Kindle - £2.99
Paperback - £3.80 - check for offers on the web