Welcome to a new series, My Reading Life, where I revisit the authors and novels that have shaped me into the reader I am today. To kick this series off, I’m beginning with the Queen of Irish fiction, the late Maeve Binchy.
I can still remember buying my first Maeve Binchy novel, way back in 1995, when Rockhampton still had a QBD bookstore and pinching pennies while at university never extended to not buying books, even if did mean tinned spaghetti for dinner most nights. The novel was Circle of Friends, re-released with a brand new movie tie in cover. At the time, on the cusp of my 20s, I was a little in love with Minnie Driver – I really coveted her hair, if truth be told – so to see her on the cover of what sounded like an awesome novel, well, I ended up buying the book even though I’d never read, or even heard of, Maeve Binchy before. I can say now, more than 20 years later, that Circle of Friends is a novel that changed my life, because it introduced me to Maeve Binchy, who still remains my most beloved author.
I went on to read every novel released by Maeve, and once I’d exhausted her backlist, I began to buy each new release in hardcover (remember hardcovers?!) as soon as they were available. Some I enjoyed more than others; I favoured her longer novels, the coming of age stories that followed the lives of younger people throughout the years. My favourite Maeve Binchy is The Glass Lake, but this is followed closely by Light a Penny Candle.
What is it about Maeve Binchy’s novels that I came to love so much? First and foremost, they’re unashamedly Irish, which makes them both hilarious – who could forget “You shut yer hole!” from Circle of Friends? – and achingly honest – such as when Kit, in The Glass Lake, discovered her mother was still alive years after her abandonment, but couldn’t forgive her even though she loved her still. I’ve always felt that I could relate to the characters and their lives on so many levels: the Catholicism and the small town miniature, the families that are far from perfect, a life unfolding but not necessarily according to plan, the deep and lasting friendships, the interconnectedness of the character’s lives. I’ve shed so many tears while reading Maeve Binchy, laughed out loud countless times, and bought plenty of copies as gifts over the years. I still have every original copy I ever bought for myself, and have no intentions of ever parting with any of them. I miss Maeve, and I miss the feeling of waiting for each new novel to release, of bringing it home and settling in to read it; the periodic return of an old friend. There are plenty of authors whose novels I enjoy just as much, but even so, deep in my literary heart, there’s a tiny little space that remains empty on account of Maeve Binchy’s passing, even five years on.
Are you a fan of Maeve Binchy? If so, I’d love to hear what your favourite of hers is. And if you’ve never read one, I highly recommend doing so. Unless you’re not a fan of Irish fiction. But even then, maybe Maeve will be the one to change that for you, so you should read her anyway…you never know, it could change your reading life!
Note: For the purposes of nostalgia, all of the cover images I included in this post are of the editions I own, so if you go looking for any of these novels, they will have updated covers which differ greatly to these.