18/11/2012

Minding Frankie (by Maeve Binchy)

I have been enjoying reading the books by the late Maeve Binchy for many years now. I thought she had retired from writing a while ago, so was delighted to learn that more books were still being written. I put this one on my wishlist when it was available in paperback, and was very pleased to be given it for my birthday.

'Minding Frankie' is, basically, about a community of people who look after a small baby. It covers the first year of her life. Frankie is born to Stella, a terminally ill single mother, who leaves her to Noel. Noel barely remembers the one time they went out, and is in rather a mess; living with his very religious parents, he has a dead-end job and is also an alcoholic. But somehow he is persuaded to take responsibility for the newborn baby, and although he's extremely nervous at first, it proves to be a turning-point in his life.

This novel is set in the delightfully warm community which includes several characters who appeared in other novels by this author. For instance, we meet, again, Doctor Declan and his wife Fiona - from 'Heart and Soul' - who also have a new baby; we also become reacquainted with the delightful Muttie and Lizzie, now getting old and frail, and their adopted grandchildren, the bright and breezy Maud and Simon, who were first introduced as neglected children in 'Scarlet Feather'.  Then Father Brian Flynn, an important character from 'Whitethorn Woods', is significant in many ways in this novel.

There are some new characters too; at least, if they've appeared elsewhere I didn't remember them. Perhaps the most significant is Lisa, who falls in love with a most inappropriate playboy cook, but finds herself spending a lot of time with Frankie. Lisa has a sister, Kate, who is a hairdresser and is given an assignment to cut Stella's hair when she's in hospital at the start of the book. Then there's Emily. Emily is technically Noel's cousin although she's rather older than he is, and usually lives in Australia. She comes to visit, and finds herself falling in love, not just with her relatives, but with all their friends and neighbours too.

It's the story of how a small community comes together to raise a child, in the face of opposition from social services, and great temptations for Noel to return to his former life. It's the story, too, about how Emily, with her determination and new ideas, manages to transform people's ideas, and eventually their lives. It's a story about courage, and love, and the way that even the most unusual relationships can work, when people take each other's concerns seriously.

There's not a great deal of plot, and it's not the kind of book to read in one sitting. I'm a little shocked to find that it took me nearly three weeks to finish this, but I very much enjoyed it.  Definitely recommended, although it might be easier to understand if you've previously read at least a few of Binchy's other recent novels.

Note that links are to the paperback versions of 'Minding Frankie', but it's also available in Kindle form.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 18th November 2012

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