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Chestnut Street


Maeve Binchy imagined a street in Dublin with many characters coming and going, and every once in a while she would write about one of these people. She would then put it in a drawer; “for the future,” she would say. The future is now.

Across town from St. Jarlath’s Crescent, featured in Minding Frankie, is Chestnut Street, where neighbors come and go. Behind their closed doors we encounter very different people with different life ...
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Chestnut Street

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Maeve Binchy imagined a street in Dublin with many characters coming and going, and every once in a while she would write about one of these people. She would then put it in a drawer; “for the future,” she would say. The future is now.

Across town from St. Jarlath’s Crescent, featured in Minding Frankie, is Chestnut Street, where neighbors come and go. Behind their closed doors we encounter very different people with different life circumstances, occupations, and sensibilities. Some of the unforgettable characters lovingly brought to life by Binchy are Bucket Maguire, the window cleaner, who must do more than he bargained for to protect his son; Nessa Byrne, whose aunt visits from  America every summer and turns the house—and Nessa’s world—upside down; Lilian, the generous girl with the big heart and a fiancé whom no one approves of; Melly, whose gossip about the neighbors helps Madame Magic, a self-styled fortune-teller, get everyone on the right track; Dolly, who discovers more about her perfect mother than she ever wanted to know; and Molly, who learns the cure for sleeplessness from her pen pal from Chicago . . .

Chestnut Street is written with the humor and understanding that are earmarks of Maeve Binchy’s extraordinary work and, once again, she warms our hearts with her storytelling. 

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

For years, when not immersed in novel writing, Maeve Binchy also indulged in her favorite pet project: composing short stories about the residents of a single Dublin street. By the time this beloved author died in 2012, she had penned nearly three dozen of these deftly turned fictional sketches. Chestnut Street will remind many readers why they made this beloved Irish author their favorite bedtime read.

Publishers Weekly
This posthumously published collection of stories revolving around an imaginary street in Dublin was written by Binchy (A Week in Winter) over a period of decades, and approved by her husband, writer Gordon Snell. The earlier stories are more developed than some of the later tales, but overall, the author gives us one last extraordinary look at ordinary people as they struggle with family relationships, romances gone awry, and the possibility for a better future. Standouts include the first story, “Dolly’s Mother,” in which a shy, unassuming teenager copes with having a kind, charismatic mother who is more popular than she is, and—as is revealed—might not be as perfect as everyone thinks. In “It’s Only A Day,” Binchy fondly portrays the transformation of three childhood friends into adults, using the lens of their disparate views on romance, as old-fashioned values find a place in their modern worlds. The book is filled with vignettes in which dissatisfied husbands leave their wives, but find their new lives wanting; disparate people find common ground, and even romance; and holding one’s tongue leads to the best way to make relationships thrive. While some entries come off more as character studies than actual stories, one finds here insightful observations about human nature—all with Binchy’s thoughtful and loving touch that will be sorely missed. (May)
From the Publisher
“[The] prose is lyrical, carrying the reader along like a lullaby. . . Each tale offers a lesson about our preconceived notions and prejudices, themes that have been a Binchy hallmark. . . For Maeve Binchy fans, Chestnut Street is a gift bequeathed to the reader.” —Mary Cadden, USA Today

“Has everything that makes Binchy special, in small delicious bites; her ability to capture human nature, describe individual life arcs, and breathe life into characters and settings really shines in these stories. . . . Chestnut Street is fictional, but the characters are very real. It’s Binchy’s gift, this ability to tell stories through characters we recognize, can relate to, want to know. . . We believe in her world, and the people she populates it with. They may be very Irish, and often concern themselves with Irish issues—but at heart, the problems are human and universal.” —Bobbi Dumas, NPR

“Short stories that reflect a sunnier but not saccharine take on life are literature’s rewards for time spent reading on the dark side. And Maeve Binchy’s Chestnut Street is such a reward. . . [These stories] reflect Binchy’s generous spirit and realism about human frailty, never ignoring it but always empathizing with its cause. . . . Though only a few pages long, each story is a complete and always perceptive narrative. . . . Binchy’s collection constitutes a bittersweet parting gift from a storyteller who understood the ‘strange justice of the world’ that shapes lives wherever they live. She is greatly missed.” —Judith Chettle, Richmond Times-Dispatch

“As befits a Binchy book, this one is packed with charming takes on people’s quirks and foibles, nosy neighbors and friendly ones. Binchy eloquently exposes and explores relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, longtime and recently acquired friends.” —Daneet Steffens, The Boston Globe

“No one commits any murders or changes the course of world history. Instead, ordinary people deal with relatable problems, conveyed in compassionate, unadorned prose. . . . Here, as in her novels, Binchy’s humor furnishes a lot of the charm.” —Kathy Ewing, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Here, life’s problems, blessings, landmarks and tragedies all happen in many and varied ways. And thankfully, Maeve Binchy’s touch is apparent in each and every story. She will be sorely missed in the world of storytelling.” —Kate Ayers,

“Gives us one last extraordinary look at ordinary people as they struggle with family relationships, romances gone awry, and the possibility for a better future. . . . One finds here insightful observations about human nature—all with Binchy’s thoughtful and loving touch that will be sorely missed.” —Publishers Weekly

“Binchy was well-known for creating realistic characters who interact in ordinary ways, in ordinary places. . . . Her many fans are sure to line up to read this.” —Booklist

“A posthumous collection of loosely linked stories from the much cherished Irish writer who died in 2012. . . . For Binchy aficionados, a late indulgence.” —Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
A daughter jealous of her beautiful mother, an estranged and sickly uncle, a teacher tired of solving everyone else's problems, and three women who take a leap of faith by moving in with one another are only a few of the residents of Chestnut Street. This posthumous publication (the author died in 2012) offers a series of vignettes that celebrate the triumphs and sorrows that take place on a modest residential Dublin street. Although this book contains Binchy's trademark writing style, it suffers from an unfortunate lack of substance. Many of the scenes feel incomplete, with Chestnut Street serving as a tenuous link among tales that don't even take place simultaneously. With little to tie the narratives together and a lack of consistency with the characters, it is difficult to develop emotional attachment to any of the street's residents. VERDICT Some readers will be happy to have one more volume from the popular Binchy, but those looking for another Quentins or Tara Road will undoubtedly be disappointed. [See Prepub Alert, 11/15/13.]—Vicki Briner, Westminster, CO
Kirkus Reviews
A variable, posthumous collection of loosely linked short stories from the much cherished Irish writer who died in 2012. Thirty-six tales of differing length, predictability and quality, generally focused on female characters—wives and mothers, partners, singletons, daughters and friends—make up this late addition to the Binchy oeuvre and explore domestic problems ranging from cranky relatives and problem children to unexpected attractions, and, most often, insensitive and/or faithless men. Binchy's wise insights and wicked humor are visible now and then, for example in the cheerily sparring dialogue of "Fay's New Uncle" and the teacher looking for mischief in "A Problem of My Own," but too often there's a sense of datedness, superficiality or simple fairy tale. Homilies are delivered often: about freedom in "Liberty Green," about finding a real father figure in "A Card for Father's Day," about being over-organized in "Flowers from Grace." Nevertheless, the author's compassion extends widely, notably to the many cheated-upon wives, girlfriends and children, as in "Taxi Men Are Invisible," when a driver finds himself observing an affair, or "Reasonable Access," which views divorce from the confused child's point of view, or "The Gift of Dignity," one of the few longer, more emotionally complex stories, which contemplates, from a friend's perspective, a silent wife's possible collusion in her husband's adultery. Chestnut Street itself, a semicircle of 30 small houses in Dublin, plays a minor but constant role, as safe harbor to the nurse, the window cleaner, the couples, families and loners and, in "Madame Magic"—a typically tidy offering—a substitute fortuneteller who turns Melly's empty house into a busy home. For Binchy aficionados, a late indulgence; for others, slim pickings.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594137549
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 12/23/2014
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 623
  • Sales rank: 1,146,062
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Maeve Binchy
Maeve Binchy is the author of numerous best-selling books, including her most recent novels, A Week in Winter, Minding Frankie, Heart and Soul, and Whitethorn Woods, as well as Circle of Friends and Tara Road, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. Married to Gordon Snell, she lived in Dalkey, Ireland, until her death in July 2012.

From the Hardcover edition.


If storytelling is an art, then Maeve Binchy is unquestionably one of today's master artists. After all, Binchy was born, educated, and lives in Ireland, a land well known for its great storytellers. Firmly grounded in the Irish storytelling tradition, Binchy has earned a sizeable following of enthusiastic fans for her 11 novels and 4 collections of short stories. I had a very happy childhood, which is unsuitable if you're going to be an Irish writer," Maeve jokes. Perhaps that happy childhood is why Binchy did not publish her first novel until she was 43 years old. But there's no doubt that once she did she proved herself to be an immensely talented, multiple New York Times-bestselling author. her name.

Binchy was introduced into the joys of storytelling at an early age. Her mother, Maureen, and father, William, a prominent Dublin barrister, encouraged Binchy and her three siblings to be avid readers as well as to share stories at dinner and, as her brother William admits, nobody loved telling stories more than Maeve.

Growing up in the quiet seaside town of Dalkey, located about 10 miles south of Dublin, Binchy also found herself dreaming of escape. "I love Dalkey now," she says, "but when I was young, I thought it was somewhat like living in the desert." Her desire to escape led her first to the big city, to the University College in Dublin, where she studied history and French. After graduating in 1960, she taught Latin, French, and history in a Dublin grade school and was able to indulge her love of traveling during summer vacations. She proved so popular a teacher that parents of her students pooled their money to send her on a trip to Israel. Her father was so impressed by the letters she wrote describing Israeli life that he typed them up and sent them to the Irish Independent newspaper. That's how Maeve returned home to find, quite to her surprise, that she was now a published writer.

Using her newfound interest in journalism, she got a job on The Irish Times as the women's editor, an unlikely role for her, she jokingly acknowledges, given her hopeless lack of fashion sense. In the early 70s, she shifted to feature reporting, and moved to London. The move was motivated only in part by her career. Making the kind of bold life-altering decision that many of her characters are prone to, Binchy decided to take a chance and move to London to be with the man she'd fallen in love with during a previous visit—Gordon Snell, a BBC broadcaster, children's book author, and mystery novelist.

The risk, as it often does in her novels, paid off big time. Maeve married Gordon in 1977, and the two remain happily married to this day. In 1980, they bought a one-bedroom cottage back in Binchy's old hometown of Dalkey. Struggling to make mortgage payments on their new home, Binchy, who had published two collections of her newspaper work and one of short stories, decided to try to sell her first novel, which she'd managed to write in between her newspaper assignments. When her publisher told her that Light A Penny Candle would likely be a bestseller, Maeve remembers her sense of shock. "I had to sit down," she recalls. "I had never even had enough money to pay the telephone bill."

Maeve and her husband still live in that same Dalkey cottage, where they share an office, writing side by side. "All I ever wanted to do," she says, "is to write stories that people will enjoy and feel at home with." She has unquestionably succeeded with that goal. Light A Penny Candle was followed by such bestselling works as Circle of Friends, which was turned into a major motion picture starring Minnie Driver, and Tara Road, an Oprah Book Club selection. Binchy is consistently named one of the most popular writers in readers' polls in England and Ireland, outselling and rated higher than James Joyce. Of this success, Binchy comments with her typical good humor, "If you're going on a plane journey, you're more likely to take one of my stories than Finnegan's Wake."

In addition to her books, Binchy is also a playwright whose works have been staged at The Peacock Theatre of Dublin, and was the author of a hugely popular monthly column called "Maeve's Week," which appeared in The Irish Times for 32 years. A kind of combined gossip, humor, and advice column, it achieved cult status in Ireland and abroad.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

Good To Know

In our interview, Binchy shared some fun facts about herself with us:

"I am a big, confident, happy woman who had a loving childhood, a pleasant career, and a wonderful marriage. I feel very lucky."

"I have been lucky enough to travel a lot, meet great people in many lands. I have liked almost everyone I met along the way."

"I have always believed that life is too short for rows and disagreements. Even if I think I'm right, I would prefer to apologize and remain friends rather than win and be an enemy."

"I live in Ireland near the sea, only one mile from where I grew up -- that's good, since I've known many of my neighbours for between 50-60 years. Gordon and I play chess every day, and we are both equally bad. We play chatty over talkative bad Bridge with friends every week."

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    1. Hometown:
      Dublin, Ireland, and London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 28, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Dalkey, a small village outside Dublin, Ireland
    1. Education:
      Holy Child Convent in Killiney; B.A. in history, University College, Dublin, 1960

Read an Excerpt

Dolly’s Mother


It was all the harder because her mother had been so beautiful. If only Dolly’s mother had been a round, bunlike woman, or a small wrinkled person, it might have been easier for Dolly, this business of growing up. But no, there were no consolations on that score. Mother was tall and willowy and had a smile that made other people smile too and a laugh that caused strangers to look up with pleasure. Mother always knew what to say and said it; Mother wore long lilac silk scarves so elegantly they seemed to flow with her when she walked. If Dolly tried to wear a scarf, either it looked like a bandage or else she got mistaken for a football fan. If you were square and solid and without color or grace, it was sometimes easy to hate Mother.

But only for a moment, and not real hate. Nobody could hate Mother, and certainly not the dumpy daughter that Mother treated like a princess. She always spoke of Dolly’s fine points. Her lovely deep--green eyes. People will get lost in those eyes, Mother had said. Dolly doubted it—-there was precious little sign of anyone looking into them for long enough to realize that they were green, let alone run the risk of sinking hopelessly into their depths. Mother always called on Father to admire Dolly’s wonderful texture of hair. “Look,” Mother would say excitedly. “Look at how thick it is and how healthy it is; we may well see the shampoo companies begging Doll to do advertisements for them.” Father would look obediently and with some mild surprise as if he had been called to see a kingfisher that had just disappeared. He would nod eagerly to please his wife and daughter. Oh, yes, he would agree. A fine shock of hair, all right, no molting there.

Dolly would examine her dull brown hair without pleasure. The only thing to be said in its favor was that there was a lot of it. And that was what Mother had unerringly been able to identify and fasten on in her extravagant compliments.

All the girls at school loved Dolly’s mother—-she was so friendly they said, so interested in them. She remembered all their names. They loved coming round to the house on Chestnut Street on Saturday afternoons. Dolly’s mother used to let them play with her old makeup. Ends of lipsticks, little, nearly empty pots of eye shadow, compacts almost worn away by dabbing. There was a big mirror with a good light where they could practice; all Dolly’s mother insisted was that every trace of it be removed with cold cream and tissues before they went home. She managed to make them believe that this was what kept the skin healthy and fresh, and Dolly’s friends enjoyed the cleansing almost as much as they had liked the painting of their young faces.

Dolly’s friends. Were they really friends, she often wondered, or did they just like her because of Mother? At school they didn’t make much of her. After class Dolly often sat alone while others went off arm in arm. She was never the center of any laughing crowd in the playground, nobody chose her to go shopping after school, she was usually one of the last to be picked for any team. Even poor Olive, who was fat and had thick, whirly round spectacles, often got picked before Dolly. If it hadn’t been for Mother she might have sunk without trace in that school. She should be very, very grateful that, unlike almost everyone else around her, she had a parent who was universally approved and liked. She should be grateful, and she usually was. She was happiest playing with her cat.

Mother always baked a funny cake for the sale of work, not a big showy one that would embarrass you or a little mean one that would make you feel ashamed, but like the one covered in Smarties, or the one with nasturtium flowers on it and a cutting from a newspaper saying that they were safe to eat. Mother had lent marvelous things for the school play and hadn’t complained when they got torn. Mother had asked Miss Power for the knitting pattern of her cardigan, and then had actually gone and knitted the thing, telling Miss Power that she had chosen a different color in case they looked like identical twins. Poor Miss Power, plain as a pikestaff and not willowy and lovely like Mother, had pinked with pleasure and had become nearer to human than any of them had ever seen her.

For Dolly’s sixteenth birthday, Mother was making a marvelous production. And every step of the way she consulted her daughter.

“Now, you must tell me what you’d like and what the other girls do. There’s nothing so silly as a mother getting it all wrong, and taking you to the pictures and McDonald’s when that’s far too young for you.”

“You’d never get it wrong, Mother,” Dolly said in a dead sort of voice.

“But of course I would, darling Doll. I’m a hundred years older than you and all your friends. I have ideas from the last century. That’s why I’m relying on you to say what you want.”

“You aren’t a hundred years older than us.” Dolly’s tone was level. “You were twenty--three when I was born; you’re not forty yet.”

“Oh, but soon will be.” Mother sighed and looked at her perfect face in the mirror. “Soon a wizened, stooped, eccentric old forty--year--old.” She pealed with laughter and Dolly laughed too. The notion was so ridiculous.

“What did you do when you were sixteen?” Dolly asked, trying to put off the moment when she would have to say she didn’t know how to stage the celebration, and was dreading it in any form.

“Oh, love, that was so long ago. And it was a Friday, so we all did what everyone did then—-we watched Ready, Steady, Go! on the television, and we had sausages and a birthday cake and we played all the Beatles on my record player. And then we went to a coffee bar and drank cups of frothy coffee and giggled and everyone went home on the bus.”

“It sounds lovely,” Dolly said wistfully.

“Well, it was the Dark Ages,” Mother admitted ruefully. “Nowadays things are much more advanced. I suppose you’ll all want to go to a disco? What did the others do? Jenny’s sixteen, Mary must be sixteen, Judy?” Mother looked at her brightly, listing the names of Dolly’s friends, alert and interested. Caring that her daughter should not be left out of whatever was the scene.

“I think Jenny just went out to the pictures,” Dolly said.

“Of course she had Nick—-that’s right.” Dolly’s mother nodded sagely. She was the confidante of all the girls.

“I don’t know what Judy did.” Dolly was mulish.

“But you must, darling. She’s your friend.”

“I still don’t know.”

Mother’s face softened visibly. Dolly could see a change of approach. The note was soothing now. “Of course, of course, and let’s not forget she may have done nothing at all. Or just had a family gathering. No, there’s no reason why you should know.”

Dolly felt worse than ever now. She was revealed to Mother as a person whose friends had celebrations without her, but as someone so pathetic that she had to give some kind of cringe--making party herself so as to buy their friendship. Dolly’s heart was heavy. She knew her face looked heavy and sad as well. She wished she could smile for this bright and lovely mother who was trying to help her, who had always been there supporting and suggesting and admiring. But the smile wouldn’t come to her face.

Mother would have every reason to play the martyr, to feel that her daughter was monstrously ungrateful. But Mother never behaved like that. Judy’s mother was constantly saying that daughters were a scourge to the flesh and a torment to the soul. Jenny’s mother was like a Special Branch officer, so suspicious was she of even the most innocent activities. Mary’s mother looked like a medieval painting of a mourning Madonna; she seemed stooped under the weight of her responsibility for a teenage girl. Only Dolly’s mother was full of hope and plans and enthusiasm. Wasn’t it bad luck that when the cards were being given out she had been dealt dull old Dolly instead of someone more colorful and lively who could respond.

“Why are you so nice to me, Mother?” Dolly asked seriously. She really and truly wanted to know.

Mother’s face showed hardly any surprise at the question. She answered it as cheerfully and with the same kind of smile that greeted almost everything.

“I’m not being nice, darling, I’m being ordinary . . . but it’s your sixteenth birthday and that should be a happy day, something you’ll remember . . . even if it’s silly, like mine was. At least I remember it, and all our idiotic clothes and hairstyles. That’s what I want you to have, a happy day.”

Dolly thought for a moment. Every single one of the girls who had been to their house had praised Mother. They had all said she was like a marvelous big sister—-you could tell her anything, she always understood.

“Mother, don’t bother. Honestly. It won’t be a happy day. There aren’t any happy days. Honestly. Days just aren’t happy like they were for you, like they are for you. I’m not complaining. It’s just the way it is.”

She willed her eyes not to fill with tears, she prayed for some understanding to come on her mother’s face. What came was a look of great concern, but Dolly knew that it wasn’t real understanding. It was just more of the same. Like it had always been.

Mother’s words washed over her, reassurance, everyone feeling down when they were fifteen, being neither old nor young, more reassurances, soon everything would look rosy again, Dolly’s beautiful green eyes would shine again, her lovely thick, shiny hair would fly about her as she raced off, full of excitement about life and all the adventures it held. . . . Dolly sat there glumly as her mother stroked her hand.

She looked down at Mother’s long, thin white fingers with their perfect, long shell--pink nails, she saw Mother’s rings, not very huge in themselves but making Mother’s little hand seem still frailer by having to bear them. The hand stroked Dolly’s square hands, with their bitten nails, their ink stains and the scratches from the blackberry bush.

Dolly knew that the fault was hers, Mother was so good; it was Dolly who was rotten. Rotten and ungiving to her core. Right to the base of her hard, square, unattractive heart.

Father often looked melancholy, Dolly thought, a little stooped and tired as he walked up the hill from the railway station carrying his briefcase, but as soon as he saw Mother he cheered up. She might wave to him from an upstairs window and then run lightly down the stairs to embrace him when he came in the door. She didn’t peck at him; she threw both her arms around him and encircled him, briefcase, overcoat, evening paper and all. Or else she might be in the kitchen, where she would drop everything and run to him. Dolly saw how pleased and even slightly surprised he was each time. He was not given to such spontaneous gestures himself, but he responded like a flower opening to the sun. The worried look of the commuter tired after a day’s work disappeared. Mother never laid any problems on him the moment he arrived. If there had been a burst pipe he heard about it later. Much later.

And so, as Dolly knew would happen, the subject of the sixteenth birthday was raised as an excitement, not a problem. Mother’s eyes shone with the excitement of it. A girl turning sixteen—-it was a symbol, a landmark, a milestone. It had to be marked. What would they do to make the day marvelous for Dolly?

Dolly saw Father’s face become tender. Father too must know of other households where the mothers were not as Mother was here. Where there was strife about children having any kind of party. How blessed he was to have the single exception, to have married the only woman in the world who positively relished a celebration for teenage girls.

“Well, now.” He beamed. “You’re a lucky girl and there’s no doubt about that, Dolly. Well, well, a sixteenth party no less.”

“I don’t mind if we can’t afford it,” Dolly began.

“Of course we can afford it. What else do we work for, your mother and I, except to be able to afford the odd little treat like this.”

Again, Dolly found herself guiltily wondering, Could this possibly be true? Did Father go out that long journey to the faceless office and come back tired every evening so that he could afford birthday parties? Surely not. And Mother, who went to work mornings in a big florist shop, was it all for a nest egg so that they could have these kinds of treats? Dolly had always thought Mother liked being among the beautiful flowers, and having lunch with her friends there and getting tired flowers to take home, where they often came to life again. She thought that Father went to work because it was what men did. They stayed in the office and dealt with files. She realized she must be very stupid about a lot of things. No wonder she couldn’t have these great conversations with people, like Mother did. Only the other day she had heard Mother talking to the postman about happiness. Imagine talking about something as huge as happiness to a man who came to deliver the letters. And he had seemed very interested and said that not enough people ever took those kind of things into consideration.

“Mother, I’m bad at knowing what people like and what they want. You are very good at it. What do you think my friends would like?”

Dolly felt about as low as she had ever felt. And who in the world would have an ounce of sympathy for her? A spoiled brat, is what they would say she was. A girl who was being offered everything and could accept nothing. Mother didn’t know any of these thoughts. She was too busy being helpful. “What about a lunch?” she said suddenly.

“A Saturday lunch at the Grand Hotel—-you could all dress up and you could have one bottle of wine between all of you, if you have lots and lots of mineral water. . . . You could order from the menu . . . choose what you like. . . . How about that?”

It had definite possibilities. It was so utterly different.

“Would you come with us?” Dolly asked.

“Nonsense, darling, your friends wouldn’t want an old fogy like me . . .”

“Please, Mother,” Dolly begged.

Mother said that since she would be working on Saturday, well she could wear a silly hat and just drop in and join them for a drink . . . or whatever.

Dolly’s friends thought it was a great idea. Jenny said she would wear her new outfit and it would make Nick sick as a parrot to know she had been lunching at the Grand. Mary said she’d go and grab a look at the menu so they’d know what to order. Judy said there might be film scouts there or men who ran model agencies. They said Dolly’s mother was a genius to have thought of it.

“How is it that your mother is so fabulous?” Jenny asked with interest.

“Meaning that I’m not,” Dolly said.

“Oh, don’t be so boring, Dolly,” Jenny and Mary said together, walking away from her, and Dolly sat in the classroom wishing the world would end. Suddenly and in a big splash of sunset. There seemed to be no point in living in a place where it seemed like a good idea for your parents to pay huge money to take people out to lunch, people who accused you to your face of being boring. Miss Power came in and found her sitting there.

“Stop slouching, Dolly. Go out and get some fresh air, get some color in your cheeks, and, for heavens sake, don’t come to school with a torn tunic and a ripped jumper. You can be sure your mother was never like that when she was your age.”

“No, I’d say she was perfect then too.” Dolly’s voice was sour and hurt. The teacher looked after her and shook her head in disappointment.

Mother had arranged a hairdo at Lilian’s and a manicure for the Saturday morning of the birthday lunch. Dolly hadn’t wanted it, any more than she had wanted the voucher for the new outfit.

“It will be a disappointment, Mother,” she had said. “Everything is.”

Had Mother’s eyes grown a little steely or did she imagine it?

“Shall I choose something for you to wear, then?” Mother had said. And of course she had found a lovely green exactly the color of Dolly’s eyes, she had said, and it did fit, and the other girls loved it; they were being polite to her today, of course, because she was getting them taken to the Grand Hotel, Dolly realized. But still they did seem to think that she looked well. And her hair was shiny and her nails, though short, were pink and neat, and the girl had given her a thing to paint on that meant you couldn’t bite them anymore.

The hotel manager had welcomed them warmly; the booking had been made in Dolly’s name.

“And your lovely mother will be joining you later,” he had said.

“Yes, she’s working, you see,” Dolly explained.


“In the flower shop,” Dolly explained.

For some reason he found this amusing. He smiled and then quickly reassured her. “Of course she is. Wonderful woman, your mother. We see her from time to time here. Not often enough.”

When Mother came in, it did appear as if everyone were admiring her. She seemed so excited by the group of girls that she was joining . . . you would have thought it was the most glittering gathering in the land, not four ill--at--ease teenagers lost in a world of too much splendor. Suddenly the lunch looked up; a very very little wine was allowed to toast the newly sixteen--year--old. The girls felt grown up, and they felt as if they belonged. Dolly saw them looking around more confidently now. The day would be one they would all remember. Would she remember it? she wondered to herself. Would she be able to recall it years and years later, like Mother had about records and television programs and coffee bars?

Mother had said that they should all take a little stroll downtown after lunch, see the musicians and dancers by the fountain. She had a few things to do later—-she’d leave them to their own devices. Feeling adult and in charge of their own destinies, the girls got their coats from the cloakroom.

Dolly had no coat, her soft green jacket and skirt was complete in itself. She waited while the others had gone to titivate still further, and idly pushed open the door to the manager’s office, where Mother had gone to pay the bill personally. She wanted to thank Mother, and thank her with warmth and say that it had been great, and that she did like the green outfit. Mother and the manager were standing very close. He had one arm around Mother and with the other hand he was stroking Mother’s face. She was smiling at him very warmly.

Dolly managed to get back, but the door still stood open. She sat down on one of the brocaded sofas in the hall.

In seconds they must have noticed the open door and they came out, Mother looking flushed, as did the hotel manager. Their fear of discovery took on a new horror when they saw the girl sitting solidly on the sofa. At the same time the chattering schoolmates arrived, so it was goodbyes and thank--yous and off with Mother downtown for the action. Jenny, Judy and Mary went ahead. Dolly walked thoughtfully with her mother.

“Why am I called Dolly?” she asked.

“Well, in order to please your father we called you Dorothy after his mother, but I never liked the name, and you were like a little doll.” She had answered, as she would every question, simply and without guilt.

“Do you do everything to please other people to make them happy?”

Her mother looked at her for a moment.

“Yes, I think I do. I learned that early on: it makes the journey through life much simpler if you please other people.”

“But it’s not being honest to how you feel, is it?”

“Not always. No.”

Dolly knew if she asked her about the hotel manager she would get an answer. But what would she ask? Do you love him? Are you going to leave Father and live with him? Do other men take you in their arms? Is that what you are going back to, what you meant when you said a few things to do?

And suddenly Dolly knew she would ask no questions. No questions at all. She knew that she would have to think about whether her mother’s way was in fact the right way—-life was short, why not smile, why not please people . . . people like her old mother--in--law, Dorothy, now long dead; like Miss Power at school, by knitting a cardigan; like Father, by running to the gate to meet him; like her lumpen, surly daughter, by giving her a birthday party.

And, as she linked Mother’s arm to walk towards the fountain, Dolly knew with a shock that she would never forget her sixteenth birthday. It would always be there, frozen forever as the day she grew up. The day she realized that there were many ways to go, and Mother’s was only one way. Not necessarily the right way, and not at all the wrong way. Just one of the many ways ahead.

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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Chestnut Street, stories from beloved, bestselling author Maeve Binchy.
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