02/08/2005

Firefly Summer

I like Maeve Binchy's books. I don't rave about them, as I do about Rosamunde Pilcher or Susan Howatch, but I enjoyed them all when I first read them five or six years ago, and particularly liked the later ones which have been published since then.

However I've only just started re-reading them this year, and am pleased to find that I like them better than I remember. Or maybe, as I have vague memories of the main plots, I'm reading more for the characterisation and the subplots. Or perhaps they're just books that improve with subseuqent readings.

Firefly Summer is quite a long book, 760 pages in paperback, and it's taken me nearly two weeks to finish it. Albeit fairly busy weeks. It's mainly focussed on the delightful Ryan family: John and Kate who are very happily married and run a pub, and their four children. The oldest two, Michael and Dara, are twins and much of the book revolves around their activities and gradual growing up as young teenagers in Ireland in the 1960s.

The main plot is about Patrick O'Neill, an American of Irish descent, who decides to return to his roots and build a hotel on the site of a mansion which was burnt down forty years previously.

The Ryans and the O'Neills soon make friends, yet maintain a constant tension; it's entirely possible, after all, that the pub trade will be taken by the hotel which is to be built nearby. Moreover Patrick also has two teenagers: the beautiful Grace and the rebellious Kerry. The Ryan twins are instantly attracted to them.

I don't find Maeve Binchy portrays children as well as some other authors do, but still I found I warmed to both Michael and Dara, and was mildly amused by their amazingly naughty younger brother Eddie. Other children were a bit more shadowy, appearing more as extras than as main characters. Much the same was true of the adults: a few were strong and believable, others less so. At first it was a bit confusing working out who was who, as there's a fairly big cast involved, but in the end it didn't matter too much. If I needed to know who someone was for the plot, it was probably clear.

It was well-written and fast-paced with just the right amount of conversation for my tastes. It wasn't high action, but it certainly wasn't dull. There's just enough description to give me a vague picture of the place, but not so much that I started to skim.

There were a few dramatic shocks along the way, two of which I had totally forgotten about since my initial reading of this book. Somehow, though, I wasn't really emotionally moved. So although I'd recommend this, and will probably read it again in another five or six years, I still don't rank Maeve Binchy as highly as the authors who can move me to tears.

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