Binchy, the mother of character driven chick-lit, has just released her latest novel, Minding Frankie. It’s always a little nerve-racking reading a new book from a much-loved author, one whose novels you grew up with and have read and re-read hundreds of times (and I mean that quite literally; I could recite the words of The Glass Lake in my sleep!).
Minding Frankie is the story of a small baby, her mother suffering from cancer, knowing she will die during the operation to deliver her little girl into the world. Leaving her baby, Frankie, to the father, Noel, with whom Stella had a drunken one-night stand, is a risk.
Noel, after all, is the least likely man to become a good father. An uneducated alcoholic, stuck in a dead end job and still living with his parents, everyone – including Noel himself – is sceptical of his ability to raise this child.
When he finds strength within himself and pulls together a widespread support network (including some characters we have met in previous Binchy novels), there is just one person left with a nagging doubt: the social worker. And it is she who must be convinced that Frankie should stay with her father and not be placed in care. A difficult task, as she is looking closely for a reason – any reason, it would seem – to do just that.
The innocence of this tiny baby, helpless as all the adults in her life fight over and analyse her wellbeing, is heart wrenching. As we read, we find ourselves hoping that, despite his imperfections and a few hurdles along the way, Noel will be able to keep this baby.
The way a small child can bring together a cast of strangers and change people is amazing, and it is this that takes the focus of the novel. The whole cast of characters revolves around this one small child, and they must each become better people in order to look after her.
Some must find direction in life, others need to grab hold of new opportunities, and all of them have to question their choices and everything they take for granted, in order to be the best people they can for this one child.
There is no doubt that Binchy has a certain knack to creating characters and making readers become a part of their lives. This is one of her greatest strengths. That slow, steady, intriguing way of dropping little bits of a character at a time is what keeps us coming back for more. For me, Binchy’s latest work is not as gripping as her novels once were. I’d love to see her take some risks, abandon the comfortable, well-known cast of characters and push the boundaries of this genre. Hopefully next time.
Having said that, this is a good book that starts slowly and steadily builds pace to become one that will have you reading on.