Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Reading my way to Ireland

Maeve Binchy writes books that do one of the wonderful things that I want novels to do. They entertain me and allow what used to be called armchair travel. For years I have dreamed of living in Ireland, but given the circumstances of my life and the despiccable state of our economy, that hasn't happened. Instead of living in County Clare, I read Binchy's stories. They do a lot for me because one of the things I love about Ireland is the people. During my two visits, I felt welcome and safe. People went out of their way to be helpful. The people rule in Binchy's books. Right now I'm two thirds through The Copper Beech, a novel made of stories about the population of a village called Shancarrig. Each section focuses on one well developed character, but includes the relationships with others who have been or will soon be featured. The structure, for a novel, is intriguing because we hear about the same time frame in the life of the village from different angles. A character who might seem cold and distant in one view becomes warm and vulnerable in another. And isn't that real?

I pondered yesterday on the expectations of a reader, the ability to pick up a book and judge it not by its cover, but by its author. I know what to expect from Binchy, and she does not disappoint. When I need a fix of Irish life, I depend on her characters to supply it. I wonder if she ever tires of being consistent, wants to write about sheep farming in Australia, or mountain climbing here in the Rockies. Clearly, she has not exhausted her material. And it's not a case of writing what you know, because we all know and can never know human nature. That's her real subject. The Irish landscape and life are specific and necessary, but the behavior of her characters will never be fully plumbed. KD

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