Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Maeve Binchy's Whitethorn Woods: A Novel in Short Stories

Binchy, Maeve. Whitethorn Woods. Random House, 2007.

Although Whitethorn Woods is officially listed as a novel, and structurally works as one, my appreciation for this book by Maeve Binchy is primarily related to its secret identity as a collection of thematically based short stories, all of which feature individuals from or visiting the small Irish town of Rossmore. Perhaps my appreciation for the character-driven chapters rather than the novel as a whole is due to my general disinterest in the volume's most overarching theme, which relates to the preservation of a purportedly magical well located on the outskirts of Rossmore.

Broad themes aside, Binchy manages to craft interesting short stories around the lives of more than a dozen Rossmore inhabitants in such a way as to keep her characters both believable and non-stereotypical (in most cases). Several of her stories contain surprising twists as Binchy prepares to move on to her next chapter/character, and often she manages to neatly link together two characters whose lives have overlapped in passing (and she kindly does this within the space of two or three chapters, which makes it much easier to remember the characters in the first place).

This book is perhaps one of the most lovely short-term reading books I have encountered; while its structure makes it awkward to read in one or two long stints (my common method of enjoying a novel), it would work well in the bathroom, on a commuter train, or at the hairdresser's. Reading each chapter in isolation removed much of the irksomeness of the overarching well-story and allowed me to savour Binchy's colourful characters and imaginative plot twists. As an aside, the book moves very slowly and I nearly left it half-read at several occasions; for me, the strength of her stories becomes much more apparent halfway through the volume.

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