Knopf, 2011. ISBN 978-0-307-27356-7.
Reviewed by Susan Ideus
Posted on 04/06/2011
Stella is dying; Stella is carrying a child. Her one priority before she dies is to find the child's father and impress on him the necessity of taking charge of this new life she carries. This she must do.
"What are you asking me to do?" the father asks.
Stella replies: "To mind to your daughter, to give her a home and a secure childhood, to tell her that her mother wasn't all that bad. Fight her battles. The usual things."
"The usual things"...words that would forever change the life of Noel Lynch and all who know him.
As well known as Binchy is for her quintessential Irish characters, this novel has at its center a young lass with no voice and no well developed personality. Frances Stella, or Frankie as she is called, is a newborn who manages to engage the hearts and souls of family and friends. Her mother dead, she is left to the care of a father, an under-employed, barely functioning alcoholic, who hadn't even known she was expected. Not exactly the parental type, Noel must make major changes if he is to be allowed to maintain custody and to care for Frankie, a promise he made in good faith to her dying mother.
A small community—a whole host of unlikely characters—rises to the occasion. Frankie has a plethora of babysitters and caretakers who overcome their own daily worries and problems to care for Frankie and lend their support to Noel. There is one constant irritating problem, however, in the form of Moira Tierney, a caseworker who appears to be overly zealous about seeing that Frances Stella is not raised by this man.
Cousin Emily Lynch has arrived from America just in time to take charge of the unfolding drama in the St. Jarlath's Crescent neighborhood of Dublin. She seems to have a knack for solving problems and coming up with practical solutions. She makes people feel confident and better about their lot in life. Is this amazing woman a social worker, or perhaps a bit of a magician? No, she is a compassionate person who listens not just to what someone says, but also to the heart. She can even see to the core of the troubled Moira. Emily never considers failure an option, and while she never comes off as an annoying cheerleader type, she manages to instill the same attitude throughout the Crescent.
Binchy has written a marvelously engaging story full of human pathos and redemption and renewal, with a touch of humor. The folk of St. Jarlath's are richly portrayed as they go about helping and supporting one another, and loving Noel and Frankie into a wonderful life together. The small kindnesses of everyday become enormous, and the potential of the human condition is celebrated in myriad ways. You will laugh and cry and come away feeling hopeful and encouraged. In this day and age, that is no small feat.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Maeve Binchy is the author of many best-selling novels, including Heart and Soul, Tara Road, and Circle of Friends, as well as several short story collections. Having received a Bachelor of Arts degree from University College in Dublin, Binchy became a teacher at a Jewish school. Her writing career began with a series of letters written to her parents during a stay in Israel and later published in a local newspaper. She is married to writer Gordon Snell and they live in a house in Dalkey, Ireland, just a few hundred yards from her childhood home. She is now retired as a journalist and columnist for the Irish Time. Visit her website.
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