Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy

Book cover Maeve Binchy's books are filled with stories of Ireland so real that readers often sought out the towns described in them, only to find that they were fictional.  I haven't not read all her books, but always found her works to be exceptional at catching both life's poignant and quiet moments.  Most of her stories have quirky twists, those details that make a person  "a character" and a place "an unforgettable."  I am sure her writing spurred countless visits to Ireland. Sadly Maeve Binchy died in 2012 and there will be no more full length novels, but a collection of short stories has been published posthumously.  Each story introduces the reader to a resident of Chestnut Street, a fictional street in Dublin.  Binchy was such a talented writer that in just four or five pages she captured the essence of each character's unique story, leaving you thinking that you had just completed a novel, not a short story.  When a select few characters make a simple mention in a second or third story later in the book, layers of authenticity begin to build, and Chestnut Street emerges as a real place in Ireland's last years of the twentieth century.  The seemingly ordinary people who inhabit Chestnut Street across the decades at first appear to be too caught up in the struggles of everyday lower middle class life to have any significant personal story to share.  They are the nameless people who work in the shops and ride the buses.  But as the doors of their tiny flats are closed, the shades drawn on the windows, and the kettle is set on the stove, Binchy lets us see into their true stories --  the lost loves, failed careers, abandonment, even second chances and heroic choices.   If you've never read one of Maeve Binchy's books, I highly recommend CHESTNUT STREET as your first read.  I especially liked the its format for vacation reading.  It was easy to pick up the book and read a story or two, then put it down without thinking I was abandoning the book mid-story.

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