Author Maeve Binchy helped me grow up, although she never knew it. I was an adult, but my taste in fiction was still quite immature. I liked stories that ended with all of the loose ends tied up. I wanted the hero and the heroine to ride off on that white stallion, or at least a red corvette, into the sunset.
I can remember walking into my local Little Professor Book Store shortly after moving to town. I was looking for something different to read, I was not quite thirty and had a husband and baby at home. Late night feedings had left me wide awake and in search of more than late night infomercials.
The friendly owner handed me “Light a Penny Candle” from the display. She had just finished the novel and was singing the praises of a new novelist, Maeve Binchy.
I bought the book happy with the premise of two girls growing up during WWII in England and Ireland. One girl is evacuated to her mother’s school chum’s household in Ireland. She quickly becomes part of the family, and the girls become fast friends.
The war ends and the young woman returns to England and the girls stay in touch through letters while each makes choices and decisions that eventually draw them together again.
The climax was shocking to me, and I was disappointed by the ending. It didn’t seem to resolve the story. There was no happy ending. Deeply disappointed, I vowed to never read another book by this author.
For years I stayed away from Binchy’s new releases, until The Copper Beech. I was six years older, and was beginning to realize life is never black and white, but a shade of gray. I bought the novel, and fell in love with the characters. Binchy captured small town life in 1950’s Ireland with charm and humor.
I took another look at Binchy’s novels: Echos, Silver Wedding, The Lilac Bus, Firefly Summer, Tara Road, Evening Class. They did not disappoint. After reading her widely successful, A Circle of Friends, I decided that Light a Penny Candle deserved a second chance.
Reading the novel through an older, wiser lens, I re-discovered the absolute beauty of the book. I loved both women and I finally understood the depth of their friendship, and their support for each other.
Years later when I read The Glass Lake I realized how Binchy was a master at setting a scene. She perfectly captured small town life through the eyes of each of her colorful characters; each one a mixture of crazy and normal, happy and sad, successful and screwed-ups.
Normal, everyday people, just like us.