Part of the joy of reading a good book is being transported into a world different from one’s own. Whether a reader fights with Katness Everdeen in the Hunger Games, battles Lord Voldemort with Harry Potter, or dances with Lizzy Bennett in Netherfield’s ballroom, a book is usually chosen because the combination of an appealing character and intriguing setting is irresistible.
Irish author Maeve Binchy holds universal appeal because her talent lies in creating stories whose successes relied upon characters similar to her readers. All readers self-identify in some form or another with characters in a novel—they either see themselves in the character as the author wrote him or her, or put themselves into the character’s position because they want to be the person the author has created. Any reader of Binchy’s books needs only skim one of her novels to find a character whose story parallels their own. Throw in some Irish brogue and details of rolling green hills and misty moors, and readers can immediately place themselves amongst Binchy’s characters. American readers tend to find any story of British origin fascinating—it is that combination of fascinating setting and appealing characterization that is sure to bring best-selling numbers to Maeve Binchy’s newest (and final) book, Chestnut Street.
An anthology of short stories examining daily life in Ireland, Binchy’s Chestnut Street details the myriad emotions, motivations, relationships, and identities of the residents of the aforementioned streets. Characters move between stories, which creates a relationship between character and reader as the characterization increases throughout the book when a character’s story is not their own. Binchy’s straightforward prose leaves out flowery language in favor of deep emotional plotlines that resonate with readers on many levels. One can enjoy the stories just for themselves or can delve deeper into plots for subtle messages and themes that move beyond Binchy’s characters.
Chestnut Street’s stories are short in length; a reader can easily finish three or four in a half-hour reading session. In fact, the only downside to Chestnut Street is that at times the stories do not feel long enough—the short length does detract from a piece fleshed out with multiple characters and subplots within one narrative. Any frustration with story length is easily put aside with the numerous stories within Chestnut Street residents’ lives; Binchy covers everything from children leaving home and extramarital affairs to finding roommates, avoiding jail, making friends, revenge on coworkers, and celebrating New Year’s Eve.
Knowing that Chestnut Street is the last of Binchy’s novels to come is sad because this author had a special gift for writing stories close to readers’ hearts; however, in this anthology of varied stories, all readers will find one to enjoy. Rest in peace, Mrs. Binchy—your readers will miss you.
An alumna of the University of Delaware’s English department, Marisa holds a Master’s degree in professional writing from New England College. Her dream job is to work as an editor for a publishing company. A voracious reader of all types of literature, her favorite genres include the classics, contemporary and historical fiction, Christian fiction, and women’s “chick-lit”.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Knopf. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.