10/10/2003

Quentins (by Maeve Binchy)

I started reading Maeve Binchy's books some years ago, and find myself enjoying them more and more. I'm not sure if her talent as a writer has increased, or if it's that as I grow older, I appreciate character-driven novels all the more. Perhaps both.

'Quentin's' is the story of a restaurant. It started as a rather seedy café, until it was bought by an entrepreneur called Quentin Barry. After that, it was managed under the name of 'Quentins' by Patrick, an excellent chef, and his wife Brenda.

It's also the story of Ella Brady. We meet her briefly in the opening paragraphs of the book, at the age of six, the first time she is taken to Quentins. She is part of a traditional, caring family who live in comfort, and Ella is the envy of her friends. As she grows up, she does occasionally wonder if her parents are almost too good to be true; gradually she realises that she is the main focus of their lives, in a somewhat unhealthy way. However she is basically a secure, contented person, and mostly accepts her good fortune.

As with many of Maeve Binchy's books, this is mostly set in Dublin; indeed she takes the setting of another of her previous books, 'Tara Road', for Ella's parents' home. She writes confidently without an excess of detail about the surroundings, and builds up a realistic picture of a busy town which could have been almost anywhere. I only really remembered with a jolt that it wasn't in England when prices were mentioned in euros rather than pounds!

Although I enjoyed this book, and will almost certainly read it again in a few years, it didn't feel to me like one of Maeve Binchy's best. It wasn't as long as the majority of her books, only about 400 pages in paperback, and yet it was more complicated than her other novels of this length. Ella is a delightful protagonist, and she certainly grows and develops through the book, but she's very much protected by her network of family and friends, even in her most painful moments. Perhaps she's basically too nice!

Moreover, it was a bit complicated, in that it gave lengthy snapshots of lots of customers who visited Quentin's, with their stories cleverly woven together. Some of the characters are exellent, including Ella, but a lot of the minor ones are rather flat and unmemorable. I found it easy to lose track of who was who.

All in all, though, a good light read with a satisfactory conclusion.

(My much longer review of Quentins can be found at the Dooyoo site).

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