RIP Maeve Binchy
July 31, 2012 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Maeve Binchy, Irish author, died at 72 yesterday.

Her fifteen novels and many short stories were not high-brow literature, but warm comfort literature, filled with characters you could love, generally set in Ireland or in the 50s or both.

Her book Circle of Friends was made into a movie.

She wrote big-hearted, escapist novels with larger than life happy endings.
posted by jeather (25 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
She was one of my favorite authors and repeatedly gave me hope that though humans are flawed, most are basically programmed to love one another.

So glad to see you posted this. Thank you. I don't care that it wasn't high-brow literature - all of her novels were wonderful reads about the human condition.

posted by Punctual at 3:34 PM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Your FPP has now inspired me to seek out and read one of her novels.
posted by infini at 3:37 PM on July 31, 2012

Many of her books are among my favourites. She'll be missed.

posted by MelanieL at 3:39 PM on July 31, 2012


I always thought I should give one of her books a try, since I love Irish literature and I have a weakness for giant family-saga type things. I think I'll do that.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:57 PM on July 31, 2012


I like her books as well. She will be missed.
posted by Hop123 at 4:03 PM on July 31, 2012

I was a fan of The Glass Lake and recommend it (it's a comfort read, for me). But Circle of Friends is more classic, and I will probably reread it now.
posted by jeather at 4:21 PM on July 31, 2012

warm comfort literature, filled with characters you could love

No disrespect to the so recently deceased Ms. Binchy, but I have always found her work incredibly depressing. It too often featured borderline sociopathic men and patient, tired women who eventually decided they'd had enough and found the mojo to suddenly turn things around. The characters were always working class types with jobs rather than careers. Even those few who had university degrees never came across as educated, as, say, being able to analyze a topic in any complex way or come up with a literary reference. Binchy's work represented a worldview that was true in its way, but that had a flatness, a lack of nuance and a one-dimensionality that was really prescriptive. And it contains semi-literate sentences such as "Jenny's shoes were hurting." I did read her work and enjoy it in a way, but I didn't read it too often. Reading two Binchy books back to back wasn't good for my mental state.
posted by orange swan at 4:31 PM on July 31, 2012

"Jenny's shoes were hurting" is fine colloquial English--the "her" is understood.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:50 PM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


I escaped into more than one of her novels. They were not Great Writing, but they did have a genuine ear for dialogue, provided a sense of what it was like to live and study and work in Ireland during the period she was writing, and avoided the formulaic insistence that the girl and boy must end up together for a happy ending. As orange swan says, they weren't exactly uplifting, and they were often populated with selfish untruthful characters who victimized the good and patient, but that also gave them more meat than most best sellers.

Thanks for the reads, Ms. Binchy.
posted by bearwife at 4:59 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I probably first read Binchy in my teens and continued to enjoy her all these years later. I loved her for her "worldview" of a small town, evolving Ireland I knew little about growing up as a small town Southern girl. Great Writing is a wonderful thing, but sometimes you just need a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good story.

posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:09 PM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

This explains why so many people are calling the library looking for her books today.

posted by sarcasticah at 5:13 PM on July 31, 2012

Maeve Binchy was one of the rare authors that my grandmother and I both enjoy. I started reading her books after Circle of Friends was made into a movie, and they are total comfort reads -- like a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup for my brains.

I might need to hit the used bookstore tonight and pick up a couple of favorites, like Light a Penny Candle.

and as my extremely irish great aunt would have said, may she be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows she's dead.
posted by palomar at 5:33 PM on July 31, 2012

My aunt adored Maeve Binchy, and devoured her books from our local library branch. When they didn't have the next volume she wanted, she'd call repeatedly to ask if the transfer or return had come in, to the annoyance of the desk staff.

One day a particularly popular book had finally come in, and she rushed from work to the library to pick it up, and announced herself to a librarian she hadn't met in person yet.

"Oh !", exclaimed the woman. "so YOUR'E the Binchy lady !"

(go ahead, say it out loud)

The few seconds during which that phrase percolated through her auditory synapses get re-told every year, at St. Patrick's Day dinner.
posted by Kakkerlak at 5:44 PM on July 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

I loved her so much. Back when "Light a Penny Candle" came out, my mom gave it to me to take on a plane ride, and I looked at the cover and thought "why are you giving me this? So not my thing." The next thing I knew, I was at my destination and didn't want to stop reading. I was a big fan from that moment on. Not all of her books captured me in the same way, but there were way more hits than misses.

I loved her characters, her language, her insight into people, her sense of hope. I will miss her.
posted by OolooKitty at 5:45 PM on July 31, 2012

Years ago a friend of mine was the producer of a local morning talk show. I attended a taping because Lyle Lovett was going to be a guest. The other guest that morning was Maeve Binchy. I had never really heard of her but I loved her instantly. The show's host, Dini Petty, only got to say "Welcome" and Maeve was off, talking a blue streak and enchanting the audience. Dini couldn't get a word in edgewise (nor did she need to) so she just looked at the floor director and shrugged her shoulders and laughed. I'm not one for fiction, but I read a couple of Maeve Binchy's just because I pictured Maeve telling the stories.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:51 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have always been a Reader, and Maeve's books were ones my mom and I would pass back and forth when I was in high school. Recently I revisited a few as audiobooks for my commute, and and they were just as warm and engaging. Such lovely memories.
posted by maryrussell at 6:58 PM on July 31, 2012

posted by lungtaworld at 7:00 PM on July 31, 2012

I was never a fan of the books, which I always filed away (no doubt unfairly) as rather genteel Harlequin Romances. But my closest friend told me today that she'd had Maeve Binchy in school (I assume at Loretto Abbey, in Dalkey) and declared her to be a fantastic teacher, which I can well believe.

I am not, by the way, knocking genteel Halequin romances. Along with Kerry Gold and Barry's Tea, Binchy is on the very short list of successful Irish exports, with 40 million books sold. She's a beloved institution in this country. She always seemed very human and down to earth, and I think this is a lovely interview with her.

I've just bought Minding Frankie on Kindle and I'm going to give Maeve another chance. I wish her well.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:15 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

The characters were always working class types with jobs rather than careers. Even those few who had university degrees never came across as educated, as, say, being able to analyze a topic in any complex way or come up with a literary reference.

I nearly posted Maeve Binchy's death, but then thought Maeve would be too unhip for a MeFite audience. But I loved her novels and would treat myself to them with a cuppa and some digestives while reading in bed. As someone who comes from a long line of people with jobs instead of careers I found her refreshing and comforting. Her characters may not always come up with a literary reference, but they had a sweet realness that made for more than just a Harlequin vapidity. Sometimes a book is to just enjoy.

posted by Isadorady at 2:14 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

She was a storyteller. She will be missed.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:36 AM on August 1, 2012

For whatever reason, reading Circle of Friends has become one of my go-to comfort totems when I'm going through a breakup.

Go raith maibh agat, Mebh. Coladh slan.

Note to Gaelic speakers: okay yes i know there are supposed to be accents over a couple of those but i don't know how to type them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Use the alt gr button Empress Callipygos. Or at least, on a UK style layout keyboard will give you a fada : áéóú, but not, I've just learned, for i and u because Metafilter uses those for italic and url. Well you learn something new every day :)
There is another way involving ctrl & the keypad.

Err, all that is on a microsoft pc-type devise.

Back to Binchy, I never actually read any of her novels. I tried Light A Penny candle years and years ago, I may have finished it, but I don't recall, and I have no real interest in trying any of her other books. However she always came across as a lovely person. And, in her own words, a storyteller rather than a "literary" figure.

She will be missed. She was consistently on our "most borrowed" stats.
posted by Fence at 11:13 AM on August 1, 2012

Never read anything by her but I always liked to say her name aloud whenever I saw it on the cover of a book my wife had left about. It's one of those names that are fun to say.
posted by bz at 11:18 AM on August 1, 2012


I didn't understand why all those older military wives loved her books so much when I, as a young 20-something, was working at that large US Army library in Europe.

As I, however, slip more quickly and easily towards middle age, I'm beginning to get it. I didn't like Tara Road but I've re-read Light A Penny Candle as comfort.

Death is nothing: she's only slipped into another room.
posted by blessedlyndie at 2:09 PM on August 1, 2012

A Penny Candle has been mentioned so many times in the past few days that I went and bought that for the Kindle as well. It's lovely. It's not great literature but it's charming and warm and well-crafted; it's an unchallenging but immersive read and I can see how she acquired legions of devoted fans. I'm really glad I got off my high horse and gave her another go.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:19 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

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