Book review: Maeve’s Times by Maeve Binchy

From her earliest childhood, Maeve Binchy loved stories… no surprise then that she grew up to be such a gifted and universally cherished writer.

By Pam Norfolk
Friday, 11th October 2013, 10:00 am
Maeves Times by Maeve Binchy
Maeves Times by Maeve Binchy

Teacher, journalist and author of over 20 novels and short stories, one of Ireland’s best-loved personalities died last year leaving her millions of readers bereft and a large gap in the world of books.

Born in in County Dublin and educated at the city’s University College, Binchy’s first novel, Light a Penny Candle, was published in 1982. Since then, several of her books – noted for their warmth, humour and compassion – have been adapted for cinema and television, including Circle of Friends and Tara Road.

But for 50 years Binchy was also a journalist, filling the columns of the Irish Times with her characteristic wit, wisdom and humanity. It was a role she fell into ‘accidentally’ after her father sent in colourful accounts from letters he received during her long summer travels when she worked as a teacher.

And journalism was a job she happily kept going even after she had become a celebrated novelist. Binchy was a born ‘people watcher’ and wrote with the sharp eye and keen human interest that readers would come to love in her fiction.

‘As someone who fell off a chair not long ago trying to hear they what they were saying at the next table in a restaurant, I suppose I am obsessively interested in what some might consider the trivia of other people’s lives,’ she once confessed.

And now there is a chance to discover what inspired Binchy in this fascinating and enjoyable collection of her writing from the Irish Times, arranged in decades from the 1960s to the 2000s, and including her first and last ever piece of writing.

From The Student Train to Plane Bores, Bathroom Joggers and When Beckett met Binchy to Life as a Waitress, Encounters at the Airport and Maeve on Margaret Thatcher, this collection of timeless writing gives a wonderful insight into the author herself and reminds us of why she was so loved and respected.

‘At the shop in London Airport, there was a young man studying the display of postcards. His eyes went up and down the shelves until he found what he wanted, and he bought twelve of the one that said ‘sorry.’ I haven’t had a wink of sleep wondering what he did,’ reads one of her classic observations.

Another ‘confession’ reveals: ‘In the old days I used to write a horoscope column. I gave myself a good forecast every week, and was appalled when someone else who shared the birthday actually mentioned to me that she read this and that it was extremely accurate.’

But Binchy was not just a cosy humourist; she wrote many articles that tackled thorny and controversial issues, and was never afraid to confront the darker side of life.

In her acknowledgements, the collection’s editor, Irish Times journalist Róisín Ingle, points out that from her arrival at the paper in 1964, Binchy had ‘a fully evolved writing voice’ whether she was describing royalty or reporting from a war zone.

With an introduction by her husband, the writer Gordon Snell, Maeve’s Times is brimming with Binchy’s intelligence, incisive wit, straightforwardness and incomparable charm.

This is a gift of a book in every sense, celebrating a very special writer’s work in all its rich and rewarding diversity and helping to keep alive her wonderful legacy for generations to come.

(Orion, hardback, £16.99)