Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

One of my favorite books is Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy. Sometimes I like books because they are “important,” but this is not one of those times. Instead, this book is important to me. It hit me at the right time, the story of Benny and Eve and the people around them. The ending hugely impressed me in that it was about Benny growing as a person rather than Benny needing a boy to complete herself. The movie, by the way, got that all wrong, and I can’t forgive that, no matter how cute Chris O’Donnell is.

I like some of Maeve Binchy’s other books, the older ones, but none of them as much as Circle of Friends. I haven’t read one since Scarlet Feather, because I found that one frustrating. The reviews of Whitethorn Woods, though, were very very good, and I thought, “I am in the mood for a nice spring book like that,” so I checked it out.

It is kind of hard to tell you what Whitethorn Woods is about. There is a small town in Ireland called Rossmore, and next to the town is a wooded area: Whitethorn Woods. In Whitethorn Woods there is a well that is a shrine to St. Ann, where many people go to pray. Unfortunately, Rossmore has grown in size, and now there seem to be plans for a bypass around it, a road that would go right through St. Ann’s well.

So, the story is about that conflict, but it presents it in these one-shots about different characters. We have Neddy, a man who isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and then we have Clare, his wife, who tells us why she loves him just as he is. We have Becca, who has her ex-boyfriend’s new woman murdered, and her mother, who sells the story to the tabloids. We don’t return to their stories, exactly, but we do get glimpses of them as we continue on with one-shots about other people. I expected there to be a bit more of an arc in terms of the characters, but instead it was slices-of-life, always with the well or the road in the background.

The man who holds the story together is Father Flynn, who, as the representative of the church, tries to stay out of the question of the road (and who believes the well is nothing more than superstition) and instead tries to do his best to care for his flock and his family. We return to him at the beginning of each of the three sections, and he helps move the story along.

On one hand, if you were looking for a story, there’s not a whole lot going on in this book. It’s very character-driven, and many of the vignettes do have closure of their own, but some do not. On the other hand, I had a hard time putting it down at the end, because I did very much want to know what was going to happen with the road and the well and the people I had met. I finished it in the break room at work, and if there hadn’t been people around, I’m sure I would have cried. I was definitely fighting tears.

If you have read Maeve Binchy before and liked her style and her characters, you will probably like this book. Many of the reviews I read called it “classic Binchy,” and I can’t disagree with that. It was like a cool, thick milkshake on a warm afternoon. It made me happy. I’m glad I read it.

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