Heart and Soul (by Maeve Binchy)

I've enjoyed every Maeve Binchy novel I've read over the past fourteen years or so, and am trying to collect them all. So I was delighted when I discovered a hardback of hers which I had not read, in a bag which someone was getting rid of... although it then took me nearly a year to get around to reading it!

'Heart and Soul' is a warm, relationship-based novel that features a new heart clinic. Dr Clara Casey has taken on the task of getting it going in its first year, although she doesn't really want to. However, she is determined to run it in her own way - arranging the layout as she wants it, employing staff whom she likes, and doing everything primarily for the sake of recovering heart patients.

So she employs the young and gentle doctor Declan, two attractive nurses, Fiona and Barbara, and a dietician who runs demonstrations of healthy cooking. She also takes Ania, a Polish refugee, under her wing, finding her odd jobs to do, and quickly coming to rely on her.

The novel follows, in a loose kind of way, the various staff in the clinic and their families, and also some of the patients.  I quickly realised that some of the characters had appeared in previous novels such as 'Quentins' (a rather classy restaurant which features), 'Scarlet Feather', and Evening Class. It took me much longer to recognise people from a novel I read in 2006 - 'Nights of Rain and Stars', or the gentle Father Bryan Flynn, who is an important character in 'Whitethorn Woods'.

I quite enjoyed re-acquainting myself with so many people from the past, but it would probably be rather confusing for anyone who had not read these books; not that the back stories need to be known, but there are rather a lot of minor characters, some of whom might seem unnecessary.

I love the writing, the way the people come alive, the growing friendships and relationships, and the often thought-provoking topics that come up - in particular the reasons why people marry (or don't marry) and what ingredients are needed for a long-term and satisfactory marriage.

The ending was positive and hopeful, and overall I enjoyed this book very much. Recommended to anyone who has read and liked other Maeve Binchy books, particularly if you wondered what became of some of the characters in the other books mentioned above. However, this probably isn't the best one to start with for someone who has not previously read any of Binchy's works.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 28th May 2012

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