A Week in Winter (by Maeve Binchy)

When Maeve Binchy sadly died in 2012, I assumed that I had a complete collection of all her books. So I was pleasantly surprised to spot a posthumous novel in hardback for a very good price at the AwesomeBooks site. I ordered it nearly a year ago but have only just read it.

It’s the story of Chicky, who is an Irish teenager at the start of the book. She falls in love, then shocks her family by running to America with her young man. She is convinced their relationship will last forever, so when it falls apart she feels unable to tell her family. So, taking odd jobs to make ends meet, she spins a growing story of a happy marriage which only comes to an end when her niece and a friend plan to visit her.

Eventually she decides to settle back in her home town, where she renovates an old house and turns it into a hotel. The book charts her story, and that of the people who come to stay during the opening week.

That’s about it as far as the plot goes; there are no real surprises, no serious conflicts, no mysteries to solve. It’s entirely character-based, as so many of Maeve Binchy’s books are, and weaves together a series of cameos featuring a group of loosely connected people. It’s a device she used before to good effect; each chapter is almost a short story in itself, yet each one relies on prior knowledge from previous chapters which the reader knows but the person concerned is unaware of.

It’s a cosy world; supposedly set in the 21st century, it’s a much gentler environment than would be found in most parts of the world, more reminiscent of the middle of last century. However I don’t mind suspending reality during the course of a book, and I enjoyed the slow-moving dialogue, the friendly interactions and the general trust in human nature. Perhaps Maeve Binchy truly lived in this kind of world - or perhaps, as she grew older, she wrote more from her younger memories. It doesn’t matter; this is a special book, the last one she wrote. There are occasional references to people from previous novels but only in passing, as owner of a restaurant or perhaps a next-door neighbour.

In one sense I liked the first half of the book best, as it charted Chicky’s life of deception and struggle and her eventual return to her own country. But the second half, introducing each of the guests with their stories, made good bedtime reading. I liked the way the author looked at each person or pair, at the varied reasons for them being in Chicky’s hotel, and the circumstances of their lives which were so important to them, yet almost invisible to those around them.

The writing is good, as I expect from Maeve Binchy, and while it wasn’t the most exciting book, it was warm and relaxing. Not one to choose if you haven’t read any of her books before, or if you prefer books with a good plot; but for fans of this author, I would certainly recommend it to read at least once. Ideal for holiday or bedtime reading.

Available in hardback, paperback and Kindle form on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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