“Treasury” is an apt description of this wonderful collection of over 40 short stories. Each of the stories is a real gem, unique and beautiful. Some are as subtle as aquamarines, or dazzling with the bright fire of diamonds; a few perhaps glowing with the depth of rubies and others, gentle like pearls. All are told by a wonderfully gifted observer of lives, other people’s lives, and told with humour, compassion and a sense of hope.
The book is a useful companion full of short stories that can be read one at a time, whenever a spare moment arises in a busy day. It is a book that will make the reader find the time to read it, because it is very difficult to put down. It will cause the reader to giggle, sigh or laugh outright on a bus or train on the way to work, in a lunch hour, in a waiting room or on a lazy Sunday – anytime when there is a spare half-hour or so, provided the temptation to read it all in one go can be resisted!
Maeve Binchy’s sharp wit and acutely-observed characters and situations give insightful glimpses into other people’s lives. These lives engender sympathy because of their ordinariness. All around us, there are people recognisably like the characters in the stories. It is enticing to look into these windows that encapsulate a meeting, a moment, a weekend, a holiday, crystallised in time.
For the approaching festive season, in this collection there are many diverse tales with a Christmas theme… from the loneliness of mistresses and those living on their own, overworked mums trying to be all things to all people and families stressed out coping with difficult relatives who appear at this time along with the turkey and the trimmings. Christmas is perhaps the time when Maeve Binchy’s characters feel the need for change in their lives most keenly. The women in her stories take charge of their destiny, fortified by the strength and hope that comes from their realisation that they no longer have to put up with unsatisfactory situations.
There are stories that show that there is always someone for everyone, like “Victor and St Valentine”, stories that explore the blessings and burdens of the now common “extended” family. Stories that muse on what might have been, from chance meetings. “By the Time We Get to Clifden” is a hilarious story where a staid couple with their orderly, predictable ways have their meticulously planned weekend away turned upside down by their hippie neighbour, on the run from her psychopathic drug-crazed boyfriend. They reluctantly encounter the wondrous discovery of enjoyment of unexpected things in unexpected places. The joy of serendipity, as found by the couple, could also be said to apply to the finding of this uplifting volume. It would be a wonderful gift to give or receive this Christmas.