29/06/2007

Echoes (by Maeve Binchy)

'Echoes' is one of Maeve Binchy's earlier novels, one I had read before - about ten years ago - but I couldn't remember much about it.

It's the story of Clare O'Brien, one of six children of a grocer in a small Irish holiday resort. Clare isn't like her siblings - she's very intelligent, believes in working hard, and likes to ask questions. She wants more from her life than marriage to a local boy and work on the checkout of some shop. She's lucky enough to have a teacher who believes in her, and who encourages her to take exams and apply for university.

Gerry is the son of a photographer, a charming, friendly kind of guy who attracts girls from a young age. He's a bit of a risk-taker, too...

David is the only son of the doctor. His father is delightful, but his mother is a snob. So when David and Clare become friendly as children, she tries to ensure they see as little of each other as possible. She's not keen on David's being friendly with Gerry, either.

This book is about these children and others growing up, learning about life and love, discovering what - and who- really matters to them. It's also about the attitudes of people a few decades ago, and the conservative nature of a small Irish town where everyone knows everyone else.

It's very well-written, evocative in places, and there's a prologue hinting at tragedy to come, which keeps the reader wondering what's going to happen for quite some time. The climax to the book is somewhat shocking, but leads the way to a hopeful ending.

And yet... somehow I found it hard to get into the story. It wasn't so much that there were a large number of characters: the main ones were clearly defined, and the minor ones didn't matter so much. The subplots were well-woven into the main story, and all had significance later on. But the characters seemed a bit flat to me. I could recognise them, but couldn't empathise with them.

I'm glad Maeve Binchy kept writing, since her characterisation in later novels is excellent, and I'm glad I re-read this book as it passed the time in an enjoyable way. But it was nothing special.

Recommended for a light holiday read, since it's easy to put down in between reading sessions.

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