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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Review: Full House by Maeve Binchy

Full House
by Maeve Binchy
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
General Fiction (Adult)

I'd seen and heard about Maeve Binchy books, so the Vintage Shorts series offered a chance to check her out.

Some of her covers suggest tender women's fiction, yet sometimes reviewers and extol-ers of her virtue would compare her to literary giants. On Wikipedia, it mentioned her awards alongside William Trevor and Margaret Atwood.  It states:
"Her novels, which were translated into 37 languages, sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.... Ireland's best-loved and most recognisable writer.... In 2010, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Book Awards. In 2012, she received an Irish Book Award in the 'Irish Popular Fiction Book' category."
So a popular and literary writer?

Why is the distinction important? It will affect how it should be reviewed, and who might be interested in its tale. If it's literary, I will hold its language and characters to a stricter test. If popular, I will focus on how well she achieves her overall effects. Literary and popular readers are two different breeds. They get their kicks from very different aspects.

The novel opens promisingly enough: A couple has their grown children not only living with them but living off them. The father is temporarily out of work, so the entire family is dependent on the mother's income. So she offers that the rest of the family chip in, work and help support the household. Their adult children balk. Some do not have steady work while those who do, refuse to donate their a portion of their wages to support the family.

Eventually, the mother packs their clothing. Her gesture is not well received.

Here's a sample:

"But first there was a party.... 
"Liam and Dee had to make a speech, of course. Everyone else had toasted them and said what a wonderful couple they were and how they had done everything right all their life.
"This was so far from being true, but at a party, in the middle of a celebration, people did not want to hear of the hard times, the mistakes made and the wrong turnings taken.
"They spoke simply of the life they had lived and the joy of their three children."

John Banville said, "Maeve wanted everyone to be a success." Roy Greenslade in The Guardian wrote that her work had a "total absence of malice."

The outcome feels more like wish fulfillment than reality-based. Obstacles are met and mounted. The characters are shuffled around the stage to enact this fulfillment.

Wish fulfillment is not a bad thing. Sometimes (or most times for most readers of popular fiction) that's what readers seek: comfort, a cup of coffee or hot cocoa, a cozy blanket inside while snow falls, a heart-warming show on Hallmark or Lifetime, or a good book that reaffirms, "Maybe humanity isn't so bad, after all."

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