Tara Road (by Maeve Binchy)

I’m very much enjoying re-reading books by my favourite authors. I always liked the late Maeve Binchy’s novels; mostly set in Ireland, they revolve around lively family situations, full of interesting characters and mixed emotions.

It’s over fifteen years since I read ‘Tara Road’, so it was well over-due for a re-read. I felt a little daunted when I picked it up a few days ago, noticing that it has over 600 pages. But once I’d got into it, I could hardly put it down.

The book focuses on people who live in an up-and-coming street in an Irish town. The main protagonist is Ria, a home-loving, caring girl when we first meet her, who is quite sure that nobody could ever fancy her, particularly when she’s with her more assured and glamorous colleague Rosemary. When Danny Lynch joins the company, nobody’s more surprised than Ria when he falls in love with her…

Ria has a delightfully outspoken mother, a rather dull sister, and a large number of friends and acquaintances whom we get to know through the course of the book. While Maeve Binchy doesn’t give the depth of characterisation of some other writers (such as Rosamunde Pilcher, for instance), she gives delightful character sketches and quirks that easily distinguish them. There’s a large cast, but I had no trouble at all remembering who was whom. Caricatures undoubtedly, in some cases, but it didn't matter.

A picture is painted of a warm and loving family home, where Ria is convinced everything is perfect, even if her teenage daughter Annie has started to be abrupt and her pre-teen son Brian keeps putting his foot in it, almost any time he opens his mouth. But her well-wishers are convinced that Danny’s just too good to be true. He takes risks in his business, and surely someone so charming and good-looking can’t possibly be faithful to his safe, comfortable wife who’s approaching middle-age…

The crisis comes suddenly, and leads on to the second part of the book where Ria and an American woman called Marilyn embark on a house exchange for two months in the summer. Both are struggling to come to terms with difficult situations, and as they learn to adjust to the new cultures and homes, we learn a great deal about them both and those they meet.

The novel consists of a series of intertwined subplots and situations rather than being a linear story, although it moves forward chronologically for the most part. In Binchy’s warm and clear story-telling, we empathise with Gertie, feel irritated with Rosemary, root for both Ria and Marilyn. There are likeable people who have plenty of flaws, and there are inevitably some surprises and shocks which characters have to deal with.

The flow is just right, the description minimal. The story flits from person to person, sometimes after just one paragraph, but it works perfectly. I gradually built up an impression of each of the people concerned; I’d forgotten the story entirely, but it was written in a way that allows the reader to understand what’s going on before the characters in the story do, and I found that satisfying.

Bad language is minimal, and while there is quite a bit of discussion of people sleeping together, there are no bedroom scenes that tell us anything more than a brief overview.

All in all, I’d recommend ‘Tara Road’ highly to anyone who likes character-driven women’s fiction.  Still in print on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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