Last read …
(This read was a gift and this review started out as a quick take that ran long – as a ‘few’ of my quick takes have; going forward if they do, I’m just going to make them a full review even if, length aside, they still feel like quick takes as this one does).
Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy left me with a warming smile on my face at the end, in spite of the hard luck stories throughout (and there are some very sad stories in this one and some very hard done by characters, either being pulled back by obligation, locked in space due to their own blinders, or taken advantage of by expectation, which can make for an exhausting read).
“Everyone knew that Harry had a wandering eye, of course, but Olive didn’t appear to notice.”
Still, the book, a montage of lives (a Binchy feature) on the titular and seemingly neverending Chestnut Street (single setting books being another Binchy feature), strikes an upward note at the end. The quartet of characters in the last story, who have become New Year’s Eve Friends of Gianni’s – Gianni’s being the small Ireland-based (as are most-to-all Binchy stories), Italian owned take out place they stumbled in to because they had no where else to be and no one missing them (hard luck, like I said) – finally made changes to their lives. It took 10 years but they were evolving (a Binchy feature being the transformative power of even casual entanglements with others). Her characters, like her stories, plod along, patiently – and both require patience of the reader. I’ve read a lot of Binchy books and perhaps derivatively (though not intentionally so) described said books as comfort food. But that’s not strictly true and this book is a good example of that. Don’t let the gentleness of the language fool you.
“Annabel had looked at him thoughtfully and wondered whether he had ever loved her. Philip had looked thoughtfully back and wondered whether he could end the conversation and get back to the office without seeming unduly curt.”
Yes, the book is largely peopled with good hearted, small town people, some, like hardworking Bucket whose criminal son resents him, seeming almost quaint in their modernizing world. But their stories are full of bumps and bruises, bad choices and bad luck. And, as a reader, I do feel the emotional pull of their journeys – though I found myself often impatient or fed up with too many of them (even, or especially, the blindly goodhearted ones) this time around. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy reading the book; there is still always something warm and engaging about how Binchy writes her homeland that suggests that even when she is herself frustrated by the people she meets, she still loves them (I can relate). Her characters often have a charm that’s hard to resist (and it is perhaps because I cared for the people of Chestnut Street that I sometimes felt such anxiety or irritation on their behalf) – hardly comfort food stuff. But still alright.