A Week In Winter by Maeve Binchy
February 12, 2013 (first published in Oct 2012)
Reviewed by Tori
Stoneybrooke is a small town, located on the west coast of Ireland. Multi generational families all live, love, and gossip there together. When locale girl, Chicky Starr, runs away to find love with a visiting American boy, she has no idea that she will end up abandoned thousands of miles from home. Using her wits, Chicky secures employment and invents a plausible story to explain away her ‘errant husband’. When she learns that an old historic mansion, the Stone House, is up for sale back home, she uses her savings and purchases the home, intent on making it a bed and breakfast. With the help of her niece Orla, the previous owner, and an old friend’s son, Chicky gets Stone House up and running and ready to welcome her first guests.
A Week in Winter is a series of character novellas all contained within a larger story, intertwining and feeding off one another. A lovely fictional contemporary that explores the expectations of family and the fine line we walk in order to save face and keep the peace. I have always enjoyed Binchy’s books. My two favorite books from her are The Glass Lake and Circle Of Friends. Set amongst the Irish, a fascinating group of people to begin with, I find her in depth characterization and flowing storylines gently draw you in and transport you to easily into her world. Romance flavors the air though her stories often take a more pragmatic view of life and love in general with bits of advice and morality lessons tossed in for contrast. Dry wit and humor balances the story well. We aren’t always guaranteed a happily ever after for some couples but they are always given an adequate ending that serves them best.
Meeting each guest was an interesting experience. Some come to Stone House with a purpose and some arrive by chance. Each come with preconceived notions, only to be caught unawares of the gifts they will be given. It’s all done in a very subtle way that sneaks up on them, leaving almost all the guests content, if not happy, with the new paths that have been opened to them. We first meet Winnie and Lillian. Winnie is in love with LIllian’s son Teddy but Lillian doesn’t want Teddy to have a new woman in his life. When Winnie plans a get away week for her and Teddy, things get confused and she finds herself arriving in Stoneybrooke with Lillian. John is a famous actor travelling incognito who finds himself at a loss when he is pushed, career wise, in directions he doesn’t want to go. Fredia is escaping a bad relationship, Henry and Nicola are escaping a tragic loss, and Anders is escaping a forced destiny. The Walls arrive, disappointed in having won second place in a contest, and a disgruntled retired school principal Nell Howe brings gloom and doom in her wake.
Each individual story explains how they came to Stone House and the reasons behind their dissatisfaction. They learn that life often throws obstacles in your path and sometimes all it takes is a neutral ear to listen for the problems to sort it all out. The stories circle each other, coming together at the end to give us an ending that reassures us that these people are more than ready for the next step in their lives.
Though Ms. Binchy passed away last year, her writing will continue to appeal to everyone who enjoys timeless heartwarming journeys into small towns and the people who inhabit them.