Sunday, March 17, 2013
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
Stonybridge is a small village on the west coast of Ireland. It's a typical village in that the young people yearn to leave. Chicky Ryan was no different, and, against her parents' wishes, she took up with an American named Walter Starr, and went with him to New York City. But, Walter proved to be a dreamer who finally moved on, while Chicky was the one working for a living. As a dutiful daughter, though, she returned home to Stonybridge once a year, spinning a story about her marriage to Walter, and his subsequent death in a car accident. And, finally, Chicky Starr returned to the village with a plan. She bought an old mansion on the cliffs from the last of the three Sheedy sisters, Miss Queenie. Miss Queenie would continue to live there while Chicky turned the old house into a restful place for a holiday by the sea.
And, Chicky finds the perfect people to help her. Rigger, a young teenage delinquent, is sent away from Dublin in disgrace, to try his hand working at Stone House. Chicky's niece, Orla, is a whiz at business, and she's asked to come home for a year to get the hotel off the ground. Once this unlikely group is ready, along with a small cat named Gloria, they welcome the first guests for A Week in Winter.
I had forgotten how beautifully Binchy developed characters. She reveals the entire lives of Chicky, Rigger, and Orla in the opening chapters. And, then one by one, she tells the stories of the guests who come to the hotel, needy people who don't know they'll find rest and answers at the Stone House in Stoneybridge. Binchy reveals family connections and buried secrets and hurts. And, there are wise women to help each of them, beginning with Chicky and the women she surrounded herself with, Orla and Rigger's young wife. The Stone House is filled with a warmth and compassion that eases the pain for most of the guests. And, the story itself is filled with warmth and fascinating lives of an actor, two doctors, a Swede who yearns for music in his life, a couple filled with resentment, two women stuck together by their mutual love of a man, a librarian, and a retired headmistress.
Chicky Starr changed lives, beginning with her own and Miss Queenie's. When Binchy leaves Chicky waiting for her next group of guests, it's hard for the reader to leave Stone House, and Maeve Binchy's writing, behind. The Irish landscape, the inside of Stone House, and the people themselves are so finely described it seems effortless. It's obvious that A Week in Winter was a labor of love, a last gift from a beloved author to her readers. It's a warm, comfortable last book, one that readers will remember with fondness.
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy. Knopf. 2013. ISBN 9780307273574 (hardcover), 336p.
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