Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Report: Echoes by Maeve Binchy

They say that rereading a favorite book is like going home again (schmaltzy, maybe, but nonetheless true).  That's how I felt when I recently reopened Maeve Binchy's Echoes.  Only, the house seemed a little bit smaller, as it's apt to after being abandoned a decade.

Like so many of Binchy's novels, Echoes is set in an Irish village in the 1950s and 1960s.  Seaside Castlebay is the home to the usual colorful cast of busybodies, drunks, pillars, and unfortunates, the most compelling of which is its heroine, Clare O' Brien.  Although the daughter of a poor shop owner, Clare is brilliant and determined, doing whatever it takes to leave Castlebay to become a history professor (a lofty ambition by even today's standards, let alone 1950s rural Ireland).  With the help of her schoolteacher mentor, the bright and beautiful but put-upon Angela O' Hara, Clare clears hurdle after hurdle -- only to have life intervene. 

In vintage Binchy style, we're treated to the inner thoughts of a host of villagers and Dubliners alike, a dialogue that embroiders this already-rich saga.  It's got all the stuff you'd expect: broken hearts, secrets, and even some danger, yet fails to fall into the trap of a cliche.  Nevertheless, it's not all tea and warm hearths.  Echoes offers layers and characters that cut deep, forcing us to re-examine that age-old conundrum of free will vs. fate.  Among other things.

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