25/06/2008

Circle of Friends (by Maeve Binchy)

I first started reading books by Maeve Binchy about twelve years ago, I suppose. I picked up the earlier ones at charity shops, and found myself quickly absorbed into the people and lifestyles described, although I wouldn't have ranked them as absolute favourites. I have gradually collected all her books over the years and enjoyed the later ones rather more. Now, after some years have elapsed, I am re-reading Binchy's earlier books, and finding I like them rather more than I did originally.

'Circle of Friends' is an family saga novel, 550 pages in all. As with so many of this author's books, it is based in Ireland. It revolves mainly around Benny and Eve, unlikely friends from school. Benny has loving, over-protective parents, and is a very big-built girl. Eve is an orphan, small and rather prickly, who has been adopted and brought up by nuns.

When eventually both Benny and Eve start college in Dublin, Eve has to work for her keep, while Benny has to return home on the bus each day. They make new friends - the beautiful but rather self-centred Nan; the handsome Jack; and many others. The minor characters are well-developed enough to add to the rich tapestry of friendship which is the overriding theme of this book.

There are several subplots as the girls grow up, begin to learn about love, and gradually discover what is most important to them. Nan is determined to rise above her rather sordid background, and Eve is determined to have nothing to do with the upper-class relatives who have cut her off.

There are some shocks in this novel, all of which I had totally forgotten in the ten years or so since I first read the book. While I didn't find it deeply moving, or even memorable, it was a very enjoyable saga overall, painting vivid images of childhood in convent schools and student days in Ireland at the end of the 1950s.

Recommended. Still in print in the UK and USA, and widely available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 25th June 2008

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