I first became aware of Maeve Binchy in the mid 1980s. She had published her first novel Light a Penny Candle in 1983 and it was a huge best-seller. In libraries too demand was high for this and for every one of her succeeding novels. Her books still remain immensely popular, greatly loved and heavily borrowed. I remember in early 2000 it was rumoured that she wouldn’t be writing any more novels and I had many conversations with borrowers who were truly saddened to think that they might not be able to enjoy further stories by their favourite author. (In fact she relented and from 2002 published several further novels).
What readers like most about her books are her characters – they are people like themselves with similar hopes and ambitions; the same disappointments and failures. They endure and enjoy life, and just get on with it. Her novels have had a universal appeal and have been translated into 37 languages selling over 40 million books worldwide.
Her books are easy to read – almost like listening to neighbours gossiping – with absorbing story-lines and are always great page turners – often with an unexpected twist or two in the plot. Her stories are about human nature and relationships; about families and communities; about love and support. Maeve Binchy writes about what she knows and it shows in her stories – they are funny and warm and always compelling.
I read her last novel – Minding Frankie – with a mixed reading group when it was first published in 2010. The group consisted of 2 men and 4 women aged between 40 and 80 and I was surprised at the positive reaction from all of them. Although both men stated that this was a “woman’s book” they had both enjoyed it and discussed in some detail the main character Noel who takes on the difficult job of bringing up his baby daughter. They all enjoyed the story immensely even if it was “a little sweet” to quote one of them.
What Maeve gives to her readers is an uplifting tale of ordinary folk living in ordinary towns and she writes with real sympathy and compassion for all of her characters, many of whom have reappeared in later books and have become almost like friends to her readers. Her books are heart-warming and life-affirming and will continue to delight readers for many years to come.