14/09/2006

Evening Class (by Maeve Binchy)

'Evening Class' is one of my favourite novels by Maeve Binchy. As with much of her work, the setting is Ireland. The main focus of the story is an Italian evening class, set up by a rather disillusioned school teacher, employing an Irish lady who has lived in Siciliy for many years. Thirty students gather and become deeply involved in each other's lives.

The book is written from several perspectives, starting with the school teacher, explaining why he is unhappy, and how the idea of the evening class arose. His wife and daughters are introduced, along with some other people who will appear later in the novel.

In the second section we meet Signora, who is to become the Italian teacher. The book goes back to her life in Sicily, her reasons for being there, and why she eventually leaves. Then we follow her as she returns to Ireland, finds somewhere to live, and is eventually persuaded to try her hand at teaching.

The novel continues in this way, changing perspectives in each section, but this is not at all disruptive; instead, each viewpoint adds to the understanding of the story as a whole. I did find the rather large cast-list a bit confusing at times, and couldn't always remember what relationship each one had with the rest, but this wasn't too disturbing. Each chapter starts a way back in a character's life, and ends a little further forward in time than the previous one, so there's a sense of moving forward as well as the ever-increasing knowledge of different people.

I found it very enjoyable. I first read this book eight years ago, and found that re-reading it, I had forgotten almost everything, so was surprised anew by some of the revelations.

Highly recommended to anyone who likes character-based novels with more depth than many average modern books.

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