Wednesday, May 15, 2024

TBR Challenge: Maeve Binchy - Circle of Friends

It began with Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, growing up, inseparable, in the village of Knockglen. Benny—the only child, yearning to break free from her adoring parents...Eve—the orphaned offspring of a convent handyman and a rebellious blueblood, abandoned by her mother's wealthy family to be raised by nuns. Eve and Benny—they knew the sins and secrets behind every villager's lace curtains...except their own.
It widened at Dublin, at the university where Benny and Eve met beautiful Nan Mahlon and Jack Foley, a doctor's handsome son. But heartbreak and betrayal would bring the worlds of Knockglen and Dublin into explosive collision. Long-hidden lies would emerge to test the meaning of love and the strength of ties held within the fragile gold bands of a...Circle Of Friends.

Comment: Here is the TBR Challenge post for May! This time the theme is "with a little help from my friends", which I interpreted at its more obvious meaning and chose a story where we would see the interactions of a group of friends. It also helped that the title of this book by Maeve Binchy was so suitable from the start as well!

In this story, set in 1957 if I saw correctly, we follow the lives of Eve Malone and Benny Hogan, two friends since childhood, as they embark on their college lives in Dublin. One tragic event brings them closer to Nan Mahon, Jack Foley and other young people who will form their circle of friends. However, as all go on with their more cosmopolitan lives, the roots and the links to each of their childhood homes remain, and sometimes dreams and needs can't match what they still carry with them... or can they? Some choices will be made, and some decisions will have to happen, for will these friends remain the same?

I know, I know, that my little summary is vague, but as it happened to other books I've read by the author, her stories are pretty much a study in character's interactions and dynamics, not as much about a complex plot. I feel that explaining better might spoiler a few things too much, and that is not my main goal with my comments. I think the real wonder of this book is in how small things can create big problems and how trusting the right person or not can influence a lot. Isn't this the bread and butter of everyone's lives?

Benny and Eve are the main characters for they are the ones we see developing/evolving the most, even though there are more characters besides them from which we have a POV. Benny is trustworthy, a little naive but friendly and self conscience of her size and how others see her. Eve, on the other hand, feels she might not be recognized enough because of her parent's relationship and the fact she was not legitimated by her rich mother's family. Their personalities should not make for a lasting friendship, but somehow they do and I liked seeing their development for the most part.

This was, in my opinion, a longer book than it needed. We have a full chapter dedicated only to the girls' childhood and how they became friends, which I didn't mind, but from the moment the setting is 1957, when they are about to go to college and all the difficulties that entailed, I felt the author left the setting up of things for too long. I get it that this is her style and in a way I can accept the technique as  valid one, for it does explain very well why some characters behave the way they do, but I think a few less scenes, few pages would not have changed much. There was a point where I did struggle a little to feel focused on what was going on, and I persisted because I kind of expected it to improve, but not every little detail was necessary.

Since the story is set in Ireland and in the late 50s, there is obviously a lot of content related to this era or to the expectations of society in this time. I think that, in part, this does help to create an atmosphere which justifies a few decisions the characters make regarding several things, and one can more easily accept why those and why not something else, after all the pressure of others and of families and society in general influenced a lot of people's choices.

Benny and Eve each have a path to go and of course, a good element was to see their growth into adult women who thought about what they could and should do. I liked that their personalities weren't compromised by the experiences they went through. This aspect was better achieved, i'd say, with the character of Nan, whose alcoholic father colored a lot of her life at home, and while I can understand her actions and thoughts throughout the novel, she is clearly made to look worse by comparison... in fact, the whole group of friends only seem to be more or less something when near someone else. Apart from Eve, Benny and Nan, everyone else had less depth and was more obviously secondary.

Did I like this story? I liked reading it for the most part, but it wasn't exciting all the time, no. I'm aware this is meant to be cozy drama, if I can use this expression, but in terms of writing, there were moments where things simply dragged too long. I also think that someone hoping to be amazed or thrilled by any kind of conclusion or climax will be disappointed, for I don't think the author aimed the plot towards any kind of big reveal. Despite my less favorite aspects, I'll probably read more by this author.
Grade: 7/10


  1. Oh, this is interesting! I was familiar with the movie (Wikipedia link here but I don't think it sank in that it was bases on a Maeve Binchy novel until just now.

    Huh. The more you know, right?

    1. Hi!
      There is a movie?? Lol, didn't know that. I will check the link, but I'm one of those who believes most movie adaptations aren't as good as the book. I also suppose it isn't an easy movie to find on TV.

    2. I like the movie myself, but as I haven't read the book, I'm not sure how it compares.

    3. The movie is from 1995.... I will try to see if it's available somewhere...

    4. I think it's very much worth watching, for what it is; here's a review by the late Roger Ebert (my favorite movie reviewer), which in my opinion really makes the movie justice:

    5. Hi! I think it was a very well thought and kind review. I checked wikipedia and there are some changes from book to movie, but I will try to watch it.

  2. Oh I like you fit this month's theme! This would definitely have to be in a mood for read for me, that's a lot of pages for character conflict, instead of plot. I feel like I've been complaining a lot about wanting that too but, only that? I'd need something more.

    1. I think this author has a very specific style... if you like one of her books, you might like the others in general, but yes, I would say that one should bear that in mind before starting, it's a time investment lol