Title: A Week in Winter
Author: Maeve Binchy
Rating: Four stars
To me, Maeve Binchy novels are the literary equivalent of warm hugs, much needed comfort on the days when I yearn to escape to her Ireland, full of neighborhoods and towns in which people band together to overcome obstacles, venture off to college, swap houses, or start businesses. Binchy wrote about loss, love, infidelity, relationships, occupations, and expectations. She wrote what she knew, and it was wonderful.
When she died, I felt like I had lost a friend. So it was with trepidation that I approached her novel, A Week in Winter, which was published posthumously last February. After all, this would be the last time I would ever read a new Maeve Binchy novel.
Binchy is at her best when she introduces her audience to a large cast of characters and weaves their personal tales into one grand tapestry. This time, all roads lead to Stoneybridge, a small Atlantic seaside village in Ireland, and Chicky Starr’s hometown. The book begins with Chicky’s story, her return from years in America and her seemingly ridiculous dream of turning an old run-down mansion set high on a bluff overlooking the ocean into a hotel. What Chicky envisions is a wonderful place where guests can spend a quiet, restorative week along the shore. Stoneybridge had that affect on her, and Chicky hopes it will work its magic on others as well. Aided by Rigger (a former bad boy trying to put his life on track) and her niece, Orla (a natural at business), the three create a welcoming environment for their potential guests.
When the first visitors to Stone House arrive, Binchy breaks off into their stories. There’s unlikely travel companions Lillian and Winnie; the prim, humorless, retired schoolteacher Miss Howe; John, who looks suspiciously like a movie star; jaded doctors Henry and Nicola; Anders, a businessman who really longs to be a musician; Freda, the librarian trying to deny her psychic gifts; and the Walls, a couple obsessed with entering contests of all sorts, who have won this trip as second prize and feel cheated because the first prize was a week in Paris.
Great vacations can be transformative. For each guest of Stone House, this is most definitely the case. Like her protagonist, Binchy creates the perfect trip for her readers. We come to know and care for all of the characters and root for what they need to make their situations better. I don’t want to spoil the story, but suffice to say, A Week in Winter wraps up each plot in a most satisfactory way. It is a marvelous book, filled with great characters, interesting predicaments, and fantastic storytelling.
Like Chicky Starr, Maeve Binchy sends all of us on our way with a warm embrace and the knowledge that everything will be all right. It is a fitting ending to a most illustrious career.