Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Maeve Binchy - Firefly Summer

It was a summer of warmth.... Kate Ryan and her husband, John, have a rollicking pub in the Irish village of Mountfern... lovely twelve-year-old twins... and such wonderful dreams.... It was a summer of innocence... but all that is about to change this fateful summer of 1962 when American millionaire Patrick O'Neill comes to town with his irresistible charm and a pocketful of money... when love and hate vie for a town's quiet heart and old traditions begin to crumble away.... It was a summer of love that would never come again.... A time that has been captured forever in Maeve Binchy's compelling family drama... a novel you will never forget.

Comment: I've decided to read this book now because it was suitable for one of the topics part of a challenge I'm doing in one of my GR groups, featuring a book whose action would take place during the summer. Besides, I had read something by the author before, so I kind of knew what to expect...

In this book we follow a group of characters in the village of Mountfern in Ireland, during the 60s onward. Things seem rather simple and just like any other village in rural Ireland but one day the rich American man Patrick O'Neill decides to come to Ireland to build a hotel on the propriety where decades earlier his grandfather was let go, forcing him to emigrate to America. Now, Patrick wants to show everyone how well his grandfather succeeded and how he can use money to make it impossible to ignore that fact. However, even the quietest of places has no choice but to be different when new people and new ideas come...will it be that what makes Mountfern so special will remain so after such a change?

This story read more like a sort of community saga than any other kind of label one would give to it. For those who like the author, her writing style (with a huge cast of characters and multiple POVs and apparently pointless scenes having more or less interest in the big scheme of things) is recognizable, but I would say that the element I couldn't ignore the most and which affected my overall enjoyment of this book was the fact just one or two characters, out of it felt like 50!, were likable to me...

To be fair, I don't mind following so many characters and having their lives interwoven so much and sometimes in such simple ways or sometimes because of complex reasons. However some have louder voices than others and if the ones who appear the most aren't always likable, that can certainly impact one'a appreciation... I also should say that, while English isn't my mother language, I can obviously read a novel in the language but what effort it is to keep track of so many names and, so often, similar ones! It was quite a challenge, let me tell you... although I suppose with a book set in Ireland in the 60s, some names would not be very realistic...

The plot is very simple: Patrick returns and wants to build the hotel and everyone who lives in the area will gain or loose something over it. Since such a construction takes time, the story starts in 1962 and keeps on going through several years ahead. In the meantime, we get to see how the characters are affected and how their lives are shaped by this, namely the key ones like the Ryan family and their neighbors, Patrick and his two children, the woman Patrick has an affair with in America but won't marry and Fergus, a close friend to the Ryans. There are plenty more but I really couldn't write about them all.

This story is about growth, especially how the kids and teenagers in the families deal with this new experience, it's about how to deal with the unexpected and the traditional in a society which hasn't changed much, still relying on many of the cultural aspects and beliefs the country is known for. From this perspective and that of what the little things the author wanted to convey regarding change and family values, I think this was an interesting book. However, it's quite a drama and sometimes a little too much (it's a big book too, so probably lots of stuff had to be used to fill in) to the point I did think "when will it end".

Well, the story did end but as many readers have said, it was a little inconclusive because some things were just too open ended, others very ambiguous, others took a long time to feel they would be ended and I guess in a way the saddest part is that whatever "meaning" this must have had was lost among so many details and characters and some avoidable scenes/situations. I really think if the author was alive today and writing this now, she would edit the story more.

I think the story dragged too much, I think too much attention was on and about characters I didn't care about, I wish some had been smarter over some things but overall, this was an interesting book to read and I say this in the good sense. I think I understand what the author's intention was but I also think many readers would probably give up in the middle.... Oh and I loved the title when it became clear what it could mean.
Grade: 5/10

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