Evening Class

( 48 )


It was the quiet ones you had to watch. That's where the real passion was lurking.

They came together at Mountainview College, a down-at-the-heels secondary school on the seamy side of Dublin, to take a course in Italian. It was Latin teacher Aidan Dunne's last chance to revive a failing marriage and a dead-end career. But Aidan's dream was headed for disaster until the mysterious Signora appeared, transforming a shared passion for Italy into a life-altering adventure for them ...

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Evening Class

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It was the quiet ones you had to watch. That's where the real passion was lurking.

They came together at Mountainview College, a down-at-the-heels secondary school on the seamy side of Dublin, to take a course in Italian. It was Latin teacher Aidan Dunne's last chance to revive a failing marriage and a dead-end career. But Aidan's dream was headed for disaster until the mysterious Signora appeared, transforming a shared passion for Italy into a life-altering adventure for them all...bank clerk Bill and his dizzy fiance Lizzie: a couple headed for trouble...Kathy, a hardworking innocent propelled into adulthood in a shocking moment of truth...Connie, the gorgeous rich lady with a scandal ready to explode...glowering Lou, who joined the class as a cover for crime. And Signora, whose passionate past remained a secret as she changed all their lives forever....

From the New York Times bestselling author of This Year It Will Be Different, The Glass Lake, and Circle of Friends, comes a novel filled with Maeve Binchy's signature warmth, wit, and sheer storytelling genius—a spellbinding tale of men and women whose quiet lives hide the most unexpected things....

The new novel from the bestselling author of The Glass Lake and Circle of Friends evokes the lives of eight Dubliners who come together in an "Introduction to Italian" class which culminates in a magical viaggio to Italy. 384 pp. Major national ads. National publicity from New York. BDD Online feature. 300,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Good storytelling . . . Binchy deftly focuses on each character in turn, probing the hidden dramas of their lives."
—Chicago Tribune

"Reading one of Maeve Binchy's novels is like coming home."
—The Washington Post

A Main Selection of the Literary Guild and the  Doubleday Book Club

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A banker with a spendthrift girlfriend; a studious teenager with an overprotective older sister; a thug looking to go straight while needing a place to stash illegal goods -- the lives of these and many other Dubliners are touched by Signora, a.k.a. Nora O'Donoghue, whose adult education class, "Introduction to Italian," becomes a lesson in what it means to be alive, in Binchy's richly satisfying novel. After being passed over for the principal's job he desperately wants, underappreciated teacher Aidan Dunne is offered, as a pacifier, the job of spearheading a program of adult education classes. He recruits Nora, whose repatriation to Ireland is precipitated by the death of her longtime married Sicilian lover, to teach Italian language and culture. The stage is thus set for La Signora to work her magic, drawing out the secrets and the romance in her students' lives. Readers uninitiated into the quotidian charms of Binchy's popular world (The Glass Lake) may find it offputting that Signora, who by many standards has masochistically mismanaged her own affairs, should prove a beacon to others. But those in the know will recognize the trademark Binchy willingness to let people be as they are, unjudged. Also familiar will be the leisurely unfolding of the story, as well as themes concerning the inevitable clash of traditional and contemporary mores, and the gap between familial duty and having a life. "You didn't love people to change them," one character observes here. Fans of Binchy's nimble storytelling skills, and of her characters, who are always decent without being dull, won't want to change a thing.
Library Journal
Binchy brings together eight Dubliners for some lessons in Italian and in life.
Library Journal
Aidan Dunn is no longer the new principal of Mountainview School in Dublin in this latest effort from Binchy (The Glass Lake, Audio Reviews, LJ 6/1/95). Instead, he is in charge of starting an evening Italian class that emphasizes language, culture, and art. Signora, an Irish woman who recently returned to Dublin after 23 years in Italy, is teaching the subject, bringing an eclectic group together: wealthy Connie, streetwise Lou, young Cathy, dizzy Lizzie, and a host of others. Signora captivates them all with the wonders of Italy, and, miraculously, no one drops the class. As the students work toward making a trip to Italy, each takes center stage briefly to tell what led them to this evening class and to this point in their lives. As each story emerges, the invisible ties connecting the students outside of the class become apparent with sometimes shocking and dangerous results. The author's cousin Kate Binchy, who has appeared on stage and screen in numerous productions, flawlessly captures the subtle speech patterns differentiating each character and vividly brings the book to life. Highly recommended.--Melanie C. Duncan, Washington Memorial Lib., Macon, GA
School Library Journal
Aidan Dunne, a middle-aged Latin teacher, has lost out on his bid to become headmaster of his Dublin school. Lonely and estranged from his family, he dreams of returning to Italy, where he had spent several holidays as a young man. Aidan is given the opportunity to start a program of evening classes at the school, and to his delight, Signora appears and offers herself as a teacher of Italian language and culture. Signora is a native Dubliner who followed her Italian lover to Sicily 20 years earlier, knowing he would not marry her, but living for the times he could slip away from his wife and family. His sudden death has brought her home. Her enthusiasm and energy attract students of all ages to her class, and the novel is their story, as well as hers and Aidan Dunne's. Relationships between the young students and their parents, and the relationships that develop among the students in the class are vividly portrayed. The climax of the book, a class trip to Italy, involves a threat of murder, a chance for Signora to return to Sicily, and the opportunity for several of the students to demonstrate their resourcefulness as well as their language skills. As with Circle of Friends, Binchy brings a diverse group of characters together and draws readers into their lives. Young adults will identify with these people and their struggles to find independence, love, and self-respect. -- Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, Virginia
Kirkus Reviews
Binchy (The Copper Beech) once again nets a flock of middle- and lower-middle worriers, loners, and groaners, all brooding on their peculiar miseries, until an updraft of love or happy coincidences sets them free. Here, the transforming agent is an evening class in Italian taking place in a barracks-like school in a run-down Irish neighborhood. Heading the list of the forlorn is 48-year-old Aidan, a teacher of Latin who dreams of Italy. His marriage is loveless, his daughters distant, and he is being bumped as a candidate for a principal's position by a heavy-drinking roue. Then there's Nora O'Donoghue, now 50. In a remote Sicilian village, Nora had been for years a backstreet love of the man she followed to Italy—a man who'd been forced to marry another. When he was killed in an accident, she returned to Ireland and eventually, as "Signora," came to teach in the evening school that Aidan now hopes to make into a success. He does, and blighted lives begin to bloom. The Signora tutors a young failure who begins to percolate in school. The boy's sister is in love with a lad who does lucrative jobs for a crime syndicate; Signora sees that the crooked becomes straight. Among other classmates whose lives become bright and new: a bank clerk who, saddled with a dippy fiancee and a retarded sister, discovers the worth of being needed; an earnest young girl who learns the truth about her sacrificing sister and meets her father; and a childlike hotel porter whose innocence brings some pleasant surprises.....A Binchy shoo-in.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440223207
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 210,329
  • Lexile: 780L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.87 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy is the bestselling author of This Year It Will Be Different, The Glass Lake, The Copper Beech, The Lilac Bus, Circle of Friends, Silver Wedding, Firefly Summer, Echoes, Light a Penny Candle, and London Transports. She has written two plays and a teleplay that won three awards at the Prague Film Festival. A writer for The Irish Times since 1969, she lives with her husband, writer and broadcaster Gordon Snell, in London and Dublin.

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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


For years, yes years, when Nora O'Donoghue lived in Sicily, she had received no letter at all from home.

She used to look hopefully at il postino as he came up the little street under the hot blue sky. But there was never a letter from Ireland, even though she wrote regularly on the first of every month to tell them how she was getting on. She had bought carbon paper; it was another thing hard to describe and translate in the shop where they sold writing paper and pencils and envelopes. But Nora needed to know what she had told them already, so that she would not contradict herself when she wrote. Since the whole life she described was a lie, she might as well make it the same lie. They would never reply, but they would read the letters. They would pass them from one to the other with heavy sighs, raised eyebrows, and deep shakes of the head. Poor stupid, headstrong Nora who couldn't see what a fool she had made of herself, wouldn't cut her losses and come back home.

"There was no reasoning with her," her mother would say.

"The girl was beyond help and showed no remorse" would be her father's view. He was a very religious man, and in his eyes the sin of having loved Mario outside marriage was greater far than having followed him out to the remote village of Annunziata even when he had said he wouldn't marry her.

If she had known that they wouldn't get in touch at all, she would have pretended that she and Mario were married. At least her old father would have slept easier in his bed and not feared so much the thought of meeting God and explaining the mortal sin of his daughter's adultery.

But then she would not have been able to do that because Mario had insisted on being upfront with them.

"I would love to marry your daughter," he had said, with his big dark eyes looking from her father to her mother backward and forward. "But sadly, sadly it is not possible. My family want me very much to marry Gabriella and her family also want the marriage. We are Sicilians; we can't disobey what our families want. I'm sure it is very much the same in Ireland." He had pleaded for an understanding, a tolerance and almost a pat on the head.

He had lived with their daughter for two years in London. They had come over to confront him. He had been in his own mind admirably truthful and fair. What more could they want of him?

Well, they wanted him gone from her life, for one thing.

They wanted Nora to come back to Ireland and hope and pray that no one would ever know of this unfortunate episode in her life, or her marriage chances, which were already slim would be further lessened.

She tried to make allowances for them. It was 1969, but then they did live in a one-horse town; they even thought coming up to Dublin was an ordeal. What had they made of their visit to London to see their daughter living in sin, and then accept the news that she would follow this man to Sicily?

The answer was they had gone into complete shock and did not reply to her letters.

She could forgive them. Yes, part of her really did forgive them, but she could never forgive her two sisters and two brothers. They were young; they must have understood love, though to look at the people they had married you might wonder. But they had all grown up together, struggled to get out of the lonely, remote little town where they lived. They had shared the anxiety of their mother's hysterectomy, their father's fall on the ice that had left him frail. They had always consulted each other about the future, about what would happen if either Mam or Dad were left alone. Neither could manage. They had all agreed that the little farm would be sold and the money used to keep whoever it was that was left alive in a flat in Dublin somewhere adjacent to them all.

Nora realized that her having decamped to Sicily didn't suit that longterm plan at all. It reduced the help force by more than twenty percent. Since Nora wasn't married the others would have assumed that she might take sole charge of a parent. She had reduced the help force by one hundred percent. Possibly that was why she never heard from them. She assumed that they would write and tell her if either Mam or Dad was very ill, or even had died.

But then sometimes she didn't know if they would do that. She seemed so remote to them, as if she herself had died already. So she relied on a friend, a good, kind friend called Brenda, who had worked with her in the hotel business. Brenda called from time to time to visit the O'Donoghues. It was not difficult for Brenda to shake her head with them over the foolishness of their daughter Nora. Brenda had spent days and nights trying to persuade, cajole, warn, and threaten Nora about how unwise was her plan to follow Mario to his village of Annunziata and face the collective rage of two families.

Brenda would be welcome in that house because nobody knew she kept in touch and told the emigrant what was happening back home. So it was through Brenda that Nora learned of new nieces and nephews, of the outbuilding on the farmhouse, of the sale of three acres, and the small trailer that was now attached to the back of the family car. Brenda wrote and told her how they watched television a lot, and had been given a microwave oven for Christmas by their children. Well, by the children they acknowledged.

Brenda did try to make them write. She had said she was sure Nora would love to hear from them; it must be lonely for her out there. But they had laughed and said: "Oh, no, it wasn't at all lonely for Lady Nora, who was having a fine time in Annunziata, living the life of Reilly with the whole place probably gossiping about her and ruining the reputation of all Irish women in front of these people."

Brenda was married to a man that they had both laughed at years back, a man called Pillow Case, for some reason they had all forgotten. They had no children and they both worked in a restaurant now. Patrick, as she now called Pillow Case, was the chef and Brenda was the manageress. The owner lived mainly abroad and was content to leave it to them. She wrote that it was as good as having your own place without the financial worries. She seemed content, but then perhaps she wasn't telling the truth either.

Nora certainly never told Brenda about how it had turned out; the years of living in a place smaller than the village she had come from in Ireland and loving the man who lived across the little piazza, a man who could come to visit her only with huge subterfuge, and as the years went on he made less and less effort to try to find the opportunities.

Nora wrote about the beautiful village of Annunziata and its white buildings where everyone had little black wrought-iron balconies and filled them with pots of geraniums or busy lizzies, but not just one or two pots like at home, whole clusters of them. And how there was a gate outside the village where you could stand and look down on the valley. And the church had some lovely ceramics that visitors were coming to visit more and more.

Mario and Gabriella ran the local hotel and they did lunches now for visitors and it was very successful. Everyone in Annunziata was pleased because it meant that other people, like wonderful Signora Leone who sold postcards and little pictures of the church, and Nora's great friends Paulo and Gianna, who made little pottery dishes and jugs with Annunziata written on them, made some money, And people sold oranges and flowers from baskets. And even she, Nora, benefited from the tourists since as well as making her lace-trimmed handkerchiefs and table runners for sale, she also gave little guided tours for English-speaking visitors. She took them round the church and told of its history, and pointed out the places in the valley where there had been battles and possibly Roman settlements and certainly centuries of adventure.

She never found it necessary to tell Brenda about Mario and Gabriella's children, five of them in all, with big dark eyes looking at her suspiciously with sullen downcast glances from across the piazza. Too young to know who she was and why she was hated and feared, too knowing to think she was just another neighbor and friend.

Since Brenda and Pillow Case didn't have any children of their own, they wouldn't be interested in these handsome, unsmiling Sicilian children who looked across from the steps of their family hotel at the room where Signora sat sewing and surveying all that passed by.

That's what they called her in Annunziata, just Signora. She had she was a widow when she arrived. It was so like her own name I anyway, she felt she had been meant to be called that always.

And even had there been anyone who truly loved her and cared a her life, how hard it would have been to try to explain what her life like in this village. A place she would have scorned if it were back in Ireland, no cinema, no dance hall, no supermarket, the local bus irregular and the journeys when it did arrive positively endless.

But here she loved every stone of the place because it was where Mario lived and worked and sang in his hotel, and eventually raised his sons and daughters, and smiled up at her as she sat sewing in her window. She would nod at him graciously, not noticing as the years went by. And the passionate years in London that ended in 1969 were long forgotten by everyone except Mario and Signora.

Of course, Mario must have remembered them with love and longing and regret as she did, otherwise why would he have stolen into her bed some nights using the key that she had made for him. Creeping across the dark square when his wife was asleep. She knew never to expect him on a night there was a moon. Too many other eyes might have seen a figure crossing the piazza and known that Mario was wandering from the wife to the foreign woman, the strange foreign woman with the big wild eyes and long red hair.

Occasionally Signora asked herself was there any possibility that she could be mad, which was what her family at home thought and was almost certainly the view of the citizens of Annunziata.

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First Chapter



There was a time back in 1970 when they would love filling in a questionnaire.

Aidan might find one in a newspaper at a weekend. Are You a Thoughtful Husband? or possibly What Do You Know About Show Biz? They scored high on the answers to Are You Well Suited? and How Well Do You Treat Your Friends?

But that was long ago.

Nowadays if Nell or Aidan Dunne saw a list of questions, they didn't rush eagerly to fill them in and see how they scored. It would be too painful to answer How Often Do You Make Love? a More than four times a week? b Twice a week on average? c Every Saturday night? d Less than this? Who would want to acknowledge how very much less than this, and look up what kind of interpretation the questionnaire sages had applied to this admission?

The page would be turned nowadays if either of them saw a survey asking Are You Compatible? And there had been no row, no falling out. Aidan had not been unfaithful to Nell, and he assumed that she had not strayed either. Was it arrogant to assume this? She was an attractive-looking woman; other men would definitely find her worth a second glance, as they always had.

Aidan knew that a great many men were just smug and unobservant, and were genuinely astounded when it was proved that their wives had been having affairs. But Nell was different. Nell wouldn't meet anyone else, make love to another man. He knew her so well, he would know if this was the case. Anyway, where would she have met anyone? And if she had met someone she fancied, where would they have gone? No, it was a ludicrous idea.

Possibly everyone else felt like this. It could well be one of the things they didn't tell you about getting older. Like having aches and pains in the backs of your legs after a long walk, like not being able to hear or understand the lyrics of pop songs anymore. Maybe you just drifted apart from the person you had thought was the center of the world.

It was quite likely that every other man of forty-eight going on forty-nine felt the same. All over the world there could be men who wanted their wives to be eager and excited about everything. It wasn't only about lovemaking, it was about enthusiasm for other things as well.

It had been so long now since Nell had asked about his job, and his hopes and dreams in the school. There was a time when she had known the name of every teacher and many of the pupils, when she would talk about the large classes, and the posts of responsibility and the school excursions and plays, about Aidan's projects for the Third World.

But now she hardly knew what was happening. When the new minister for education was appointed, Nell just shrugged. I suppose she can't be worse than the last one, was her only comment. Nell knew nothing of the Transition Year except to call it a bloody luxury. Imagine giving children all that time to think and discuss and . . . find themselves . . . instead of getting down to their exams.

And Aidan didn't blame her.

He had become very dull explaining things. He could hear his own voice echoing in his ears, there was a kind of drone to it, and his daughters would raise their eyes to heaven wondering why at the ages of twenty-one and nineteen they should have to listen to any of this.

He tried not to bore them. Aidan knew it was a characteristic of teachers; they were so used to the captive audience in the classroom they could go on for far too long, approaching every subject from several sides until they were sure that the listener had grasped the drift.

He made huge efforts to key in to their lives.

But Nell never had any stories or any issues to discuss about the restaurant where she worked as a cashier. "Ah, for heaven's sake, Aidan, it's a job. I sit there and I take their credit cards, or their checks or their cash, and I give them change and a receipt. And then at the end of the day I come home and at the end of the week I get my wages. And that's the way it is for ninety percent of the world. We don't have issues and dramas and power struggles; we're normal, that's all."

It was not intended to wound him or put him down, but still it was a slap in the face. It was obvious that he himself must have been going on and on about confrontations and conflicts in the staff room. And the days were gone . . . obviously long gone, when Nell was waiting eagerly to know what had happened, always rooting for him, championing his cause and declaring that his enemies were her enemies. Aidan ached for the companionship, the solidarity, and the teamwork of other times.

Perhaps when he became principal it would return.

Or was this fooling himself? Possibly the headship would still hold little interest for his wife and two daughters. His home just ticked along easily. Recently he had an odd feeling that he had died some time ago and they were all managing perfectly well. Nell went to and from the restaurant. She went to see her mother once a week; no, Aidan needn't come, she had said, it was just a nice family chat. Her mother liked to see them all regularly to know they were all right.

"And are you all right?" Aidan had asked anxiously.

"You're not with the Fifth Years now doing amateur philosophy," Nell had said. "I'm as all right as anyone, I suppose. Can't you leave it at that?"

But of course Aidan couldn't leave it. He told her it wasn't amateur philosophy it was Introduction to Philosophy, and it wasn't Fifth Years, it was Transition Years. He would never forget the look Nell had given him. She had begun to say something but then changed her mind. Her face was full of distant pity. She looked at him as she might have looked at a poor tramp sitting on the street, his coat tied with a rope and drinking the dregs of a ginger wine bottle.

He fared no better with his daughters.

Grania worked in the bank but had little to report from it, to her father at any rate. Sometimes he came across her talking to her friends, and she seemed much more animated. And it was the same with Brigid. The travel agency was fine, Dad, stop going on about it. Of course it's fine, and the free holiday twice a year, and the long lunch hours because three girls covered two hours.

Grania didn't want to talk about the whole system of banking and whether it was unfair to encourage people to take loans that they would find difficult to repay. She didn't invent the rule, she told him, she had an In basket on her desk and she dealt with what was in it each day. That was it. Dead simple. Brigid didn't have any views on whether the travel trade was selling tourists some kind of dream it could never deliver. "Dad, if they don't want a holiday nobody's twisting their arms, they don't have to come in and buy one."

Aidan wished he were more observant. When had all this happened . . . this growing apart? There was a time when the girls had sat all clean and shiny after their bath time in pink dressing gowns while he told them stories and Nell would look on pleased from across the room. But that was years back. There had been good times since then. When they were doing their exams, for example, Aidan remembered doing out revision sheets for them, planning how they should study to the best advantage. They had been grateful then. He remembered the celebrations when Grania got her leaving certificate and later when she was accepted in the bank. There had been a lunch on each occasion in a big hotel, the waiter had taken photographs of them all. And it had been the same with Brigid, a lunch and a picture session. They looked a perfectly happy family in those pictures. Was it all a facade?

In a way it must have been, because here he was now only a few short years later and he could not sit down with his wife and two daughters, the people he loved most in the world, and tell them his fears that he might not be made principal.

He had put in so much time in that school, worked so many extra hours, involved himself in every aspect of it, and somewhere in his bones he felt that he would be passed over.

Another man, almost precisely his own age, might well get the post. This was Tony O'Brien, a man who had never stayed on after hours to support a school team playing a home match, a man who had not involved himself in the restructuring of the curriculum, in the fund-raising for the new building project. Tony O'Brien, who smoked quite openly in the corridors of a school that was meant to be a smoke-free zone, who had his lunch in a pub, letting everyone know it was a pint and a half and a cheese sandwich. A bachelor, in no sense a family man, often seen with a girl half his age on his arm, and yet he was being suggested as a very possible successor as head of the school.

Many things had confused Aidan in the last few years, but nothing as much as this. By any standards Tony O'Brien should not be in the running at all. Aidan ran his hands through his hair, which was thinning. Tony O'Brien, of course, had a huge shock of thick brown hair falling into his eyes and resting on his collar. Surely the world hadn't gone so mad that they would take this into consideration when choosing a principal?

Lots of hair good, thinning hair bad . . . Aidan grinned. If he could laugh at some of the worst bits of the paranoia, maybe he could keep self-pity at bay. And he would have to laugh to himself. Somehow there was no one else to laugh with these days.

There was a questionnaire in one of the Sunday papers: Are You Tense? Aidan filled in the answers truthfully. He scored over 75 on the scale, which he knew was high. He wasn't, however, quite prepared for the terse and dismissive verdict. If you scored over 70, you are in fact a clenched fist. Lighten up, friend, before you explode.

They had always said that these tests were just jokes really, space fillers. That's what Aidan and Nell used to say when they emerged as less well than they had hoped from a questionnaire. But this time, of course, he was on his own. He told himself that newspapers had to think of something to take up half a page, otherwise the edition would appear with great white blanks.

But still it upset him. Aidan knew that he was jumpy, that was one thing. But a clenched fist? No wonder they might think twice about him as headmaster material.

He had written his answers on a separate sheet of paper lest anyone in the family would find and read his confessional of worries and anxieties and sleeplessness.

Sundays were the days that Aidan now found hardest to bear. In the past when they were a real family, a happy family, they had gone on picnics in the summer and taken healthy, bracing walks when the weather was cold. Aidan boasted that his family would never be like those Dublin families who didn't know anywhere except the area they lived themselves.

One Sunday he would take them on a train south and they would climb Bray Head and look into the neighboring county of Wicklow, another Sunday they would go north to the seaside villages of Rush and Lusk and Skerries, small places, each with its own character, all on the road that would eventually take them up to the Border. He had arranged day excursions to Belfast for them too, so that they would not grow up in ignorance of the other part of Ireland.

Those had been some of his happiest times, the combination of schoolteacher and father, explainer and entertainer. Daddy knew the answer to everything: where to get the bus out to Carrickfergus Castle, or the Ulster Folk Museum, and a grand place for chips before getting on the train back home.

Aidan remembered a woman on the train telling Grania and Brigid that they were lucky little girls to have a daddy who taught them so much. They had nodded solemnly to agree with her, and Nell had whispered to him that the woman had obviously fancied Aidan but she wasn't going to get her hands on him. And Aidan had felt twelve feet tall and the most important man on earth.

Now on a Sunday he felt increasingly that he was hardly noticed in his home.

They had never been people for the traditional Sunday lunch, roast beef or lamb or chicken and great dishes of potatoes and vegetables, the way so many other families were. Because of their outings and adventures, Sunday had been a casual day in their home. Aidan wished that there was some fixed point in it. He went to Mass. Nell sometimes came with him, but usually she was going on somewhere afterward to meet one of her sisters or a friend from work. And, of course, nowadays the shops were open on Sundays, so there were plenty of places to go.

The girls never went to Mass. It was useless to talk to them. He had given up when they were seventeen. They didn't get up until lunchtime and then they made sandwiches, looked at whatever they had videotaped during the week, lounged around in dressing gowns, washed their hair, their clothes, spoke on the phone to friends, asked other friends in for coffee.

They behaved as if they lived in a flat together with their mother as a pleasant, eccentric landlady who had to be humored. Grania and Brigid contributed a very small amount of money each for bed and board, and handed it over with a bad grace, as if they were being bled dry. To his knowledge they contributed nothing else to the household budget. Not a tin of biscuits, a tub of ice cream, or a carton of fabric softener ever came from their purses, but they were quick to grizzle if these things weren't readily available.

Aidan wondered how Tony O'Brien spent his Sundays.

He knew that Tony certainly didn't go to Mass, he had made that clear to the pupils when they questioned him: "Sir, sir, do you go to Mass on Sundays?"

"Sometimes I do, when I feel in the mood for talking to God," Tony O'Brien had said.

Aidan knew this. It had been reported gleefully by the boys and girls, who used it as ammunition against those who said they had to go every Sunday under pain of mortal sin.

He had been very clever, too clever, Aidan thought. He didn't deny the existence of God, instead he had made out that he was a friend of God's and friends only drop in to have a chat when they are in good form. It made Tony O'Brien have the inside track somehow while Aidan Dunne was left on the outside, no friend of the Almighty, just a time server. It was one of the many annoying and unfair things about it all.

On a Sunday Tony O'Brien probably got up late . . . he lived in what they called a town house nowadays, which was the equivalent of a flat. Just one big room and kitchen downstairs, and one big bedroom and bathroom upstairs. The door opened straight onto the street. He had been observed leaving in the morning accompanied by young women.

There was a time when that would have ended his career let alone his chances of promotion . . . back in the 1960s teachers had been sacked for having relationships outside marriage. Not, of course, that this was right. In fact, they had all protested very strongly at the time. But still, a man who had never committed to any woman, to parade a succession of them through his town house, and still be considered headmaster material, a role model for the students . . . that wasn't right either.

What would Tony O'Brien be doing now, at two-thirty on a wet Sunday? Maybe around to lunch at one of the other teachers' houses. Aidan had never been able to ask him since they literally didn't have lunch, and Nell would reasonably have inquired why he should impose on them a man he had been denouncing for five years. He might still be entertaining a lady from last night. Tony O'Brien said he owed a great debt of gratitude to the people of China since there was an excellent take-away only three doors away . . . lemon chicken, sesame toast, and chili prawns were always great with a bottle of Australian Chardonnay and the Sunday papers. Imagine, at his age, a man who could be a grandfather, entertaining girls and buying Chinese food on a Sunday.

But then again, why not?

Aidan Dunne was a fair man. He had to admit that people had a choice in such matters. Tony O'Brien didn't drag these women back to his town house by their hair. There was no law that said he should be married and bring up two distant daughters as Aidan had done. And in a way it was to the man's credit that he wasn't a hypocrite, he didn't try to disguise his lifestyle.

It was just that things had changed so very much. Someone had moved the goalposts about what was acceptable and what was not, and they hadn't consulted Aidan first.

And how would Tony spend the rest of the day?

Surely they wouldn't go back to bed again for the afternoon? Maybe he would go for a walk or the girl would go home and Tony would play music; he often spoke of his CDs. When he had won 350 [pounds sterling] on the match four of the Lotto, he had hired a carpenter who was working on the school extension, and paid him the money straight out to make a rack that would hold five hundred CDs. Everyone had been impressed. Aidan had been jealous. Where would you get the money to buy that many CDs? He knew for a fact that Tony O'Brien bought about three a week. When would you get the time to listen to them? And then Tony would stroll down to the pub and meet a few friends, or go to a foreign-language movie with subtitles, or to a jazz club.

Maybe it was all this moving around that made him more interesting and gave him the edge on everyone else. Certainly on Aidan. Aidan's Sundays would be nothing that would interest anyone.

When he came back from late Mass around one o'clock and asked would anyone like a bacon-and-egg, there was a chorus of disgust from his daughters: "God no, Daddy!" or "Daddy, please don't even mention something like that, and could you keep the kitchen door closed if you're going to have one?" If Nell were at home, she might raise her eyes from a novel and ask, Why? Her tone was never hostile only bewildered as if it were the most unlikely suggestion that had ever been made. Left to herself Nell might make a salad sandwich at three.

Aidan thought back wistfully to his mother's table, where the chat of the week took place and no one was excused without a very good reason. Of course, dismantling this had been all his own doing. Making them into free spirits who would discover the length and breadth of County Dublin and even the neighboring counties on their one full day off. How could he have known it would lead to his being displaced and restless, wandering from the kitchen where everyone heated up their own food in a microwave, to the sitting room where there was some program that he didn't want to see on television, to the bedroom where it was so long since he had made love with his wife, he could barely endure looking at it until it was time to go to sleep.

There was, of course, the dining room. The room with the heavy dark furniture that they had hardly used since they bought the house. Even if they had been people who entertained, it was too small and poky. Once or twice recently Nell had suggested casually that Aidan should make it into a study for himself. But he had resisted. He felt that if he turned it into a copy of his room at the school, he might somehow lose his identity as head of this house, as father, provider, and man who once believed that this was the center of the world.

He also feared that if he made himself too much at home there, then the next step would be that he should sleep there too. After all, there was a downstairs cloakroom. It would be perfectly feasible to leave the three women to roam the upstairs area.

He must never do that, he must fight to keep his place in the family as he was fighting to keep his presence in the minds of the Board of Management, the men and women who would choose the next principal of Mountainview College.

His mother had never understood why the school wasn't called Saint something college. That's what all schools were called. It was hard to explain to her that things were different now, a changed setup, but he kept reassuring her that there were both a priest and a nun on the Board of Management. They didn't make all the decisions but were there to give a voice to the role the religious had played in Irish education over the years.

Aidan's mother had sniffed. Things had come to a strange state when priests and nuns were meant to be pleased that they had a place on the board instead of running it the way God intended. In vain Aidan had tried to explain about the fall in vocations. Even secondary schools ostensibly run by religious orders had in the nineties only a very few religious in teaching positions. The numbers just weren't there.

Nell had heard him arguing the situation with his mother once and had suggested that he save his breath. "Tell her they still run it, Aidan. It makes for an easier life. And of course in a way they do. People are afraid of them." It irritated him greatly when Nell spoke like this. Nell had no reason to fear the power of the Catholic Church. She had attended its services for as long as it had suited her, had abandoned confession and any of the Pope's teaching on contraception at an early stage. Why should she pretend that it had been a burden that lay heavily on her? But he didn't fight her on this. He was calm and accepting as in so many things. She had no time for his mother; no hostility, but no interest in her at all.

Sometimes his mother wondered when she would get invited for dinner and Aidan had to say that the way things were they were in a state of flux, but once they got organized . . .

He had been saying this for over two decades, and as an excuse it had worn thin. And it wasn't fair to fault Nell over this. It wasn't as if she was constantly inviting her own mother around or anything. His mother had been asked to any family celebration in hotels, of course. But it wasn't the same. And it had been so long since there was anything to celebrate. Except, of course, the hope that he would be made principal.


"DID YOU HAVE a good weekend?" Tony O'Brien asked him in the staff room.

Aidan looked at him surprised. It was so long since anyone had inquired. "Quiet, you know," Aidan said.

"Oh well, lucky you. I was at a party last night and I'm suffering after it. Still, only three and a half hours till the good old rehydrating lunchtime pint," Tony groaned.

"Aren't you marvelous, the stamina I mean." Aidan hoped the bitterness and criticism were not too obvious in his voice.

"Not at all, I'm far too long in the tooth for this, but I don't have the consolations of wife and family like all the rest of you do." Tony's smile was warm. If you didn't know him and his lifestyle, you'd have believed that he was genuinely wistful, Aidan thought to himself.

They walked together along the corridors of Mountainview College, the place his mother would like to have been called Saint Kevin's or, even more particularly, Saint Anthony's. Anthony was the saint who found lost things, and his mother had increasing calls on him as she got older. He found her glasses a dozen times a day. The least that people could do was thank him by naming the local school after him. Still, when her son was principal . . . she lived in hope.

The children ran past them, some of them chorusing "good morning," others looking sullenly away. Aidan Dunne knew them all, and their parents. And remembered many of their elder brothers and sisters. Tony O'Brien knew hardly any of them. It was so unfair.

"I met someone who knew you last night," Tony O'Brien said suddenly.

"At a party? I doubt that." Aidan smiled.

"No, definitely she did. When I told her I taught here she asked did I know you."

"And who was she?" Aidan was interested in spite of himself.

"I never got her name. Nice girl."

"An ex-pupil possibly?"

"No, then she'd have known me."

"A mystery indeed," Aidan said, and watched as Tony O'Brien went into Fifth Year.

The silence that fell immediately was beyond explanation. Why did they respect him so much, fear to be caught talking, behaving badly? Tony O'Brien didn't remember their names, for heaven's sake. He barely marked their work, he lost not an hour's sleep over their examination results. Basically he didn't care about them very much. And yet they sought his approval. Aidan couldn't understand it. In sixteen-year-old boys and girls.

You always heard that women were meant to like men who treated them hard. He felt a flicker of relief that Nell had never crossed Tony O'Brien's path. Then it was followed by another flicker, a sense of recognition that somehow Nell had left him long ago.

Aidan Dunne went into the Fourth Years and stood at the door for three minutes until they gradually came to a sort of silence for him.

He thought that Mr. Walsh, the elderly principal, may have passed by behind him in the corridor. But he may have imagined it. You always imagined that the principal was passing by when your class was in disorder. It was something every single teacher he ever met admitted to. Aidan knew that it was a trivial worry. The principal admired him far too much to care if Fourth Years were a bit noisier than usual. Aidan was the most responsible teacher in Mountainview. Everyone knew that.


THAT WAS THE afternoon that Mr. Walsh called him into the principal's office. He was a man whose retirement could not come quick enough. Today for the first time there was no small talk.

"You and I feel the same about a lot of things, Aidan."

"I hope so, Mr. Walsh."

"Yes, we look at the world from the same viewpoint. But it's not enough."

"I don't know exactly what you mean." And Aidan spoke only the truth. Was this a philosophical discussion? Was it a warning? A reprimand?

"It's the system, you see. The way they run things. The principal doesn't have a vote. Sits there like a bloody eunuch, that's what it amounts to."

"A vote?" Aidan thought he knew where this was going, but decided to pretend not to.

It had been a wrong calculation. It only annoyed the principal. "Come on, man, you know what I'm talking about. The job, the job, man."

"Well, yes." Aidan now felt foolish.

"I'm a nonvoting member of the Board of Management. I don't have a say. If I did you'd be in this job in September. I'd give you a few bits of advice about taking no nonsense from those louts in Fourth Year. But I still think you're the man with the values, and the sense of what's right for a school."

"Thank you, Mr. Walsh, that's very good to know."

"Man, will you listen to me before you mouth these things . . . there's nothing to thank me for. I can't do anything for you, that's what I'm trying to tell you, Aidan." The elder man looked at him despairingly, as if Aidan were some very slow-learning child in First Year.

The look was not unlike the way Nell looked at him sometimes, Aidan realized with a great feeling of sadness. He had been teaching other people's children since he was twenty-two years of age, over twenty-six years now, yet he did not know how to respond to a man who was trying hard to help him; he had only managed to annoy him.

The principal was looking at him intently. For all that Aidan knew, Mr. Walsh might be able to read his thoughts, recognize the realization that had just sunk into Aidan's brain. "Come on now, pull yourself together. Don't look so stricken. I might be wrong, I could have it all wrong. I'm an old horse going out to grass, and I suppose I just wanted to cover myself in case it didn't go in your favor."

Aidan could see that the principal deeply regretted having spoken at all. "No, no. I greatly appreciate it, I mean you are very good to tell me where you stand in all this . . . I mean. . ." Aidan's voice trickled away.

"It wouldn't be the end of the world, you know . . . suppose you didn't get it."

"No no, absolutely not."

"I mean, you're a family man, many compensations. Lots of life going on at home, not wedded to this place like I was for so long." Mr. Walsh had been a widower for many years, his only son visited him but rarely.

"Utterly right, just as you say," Aidan said.

"But?" The older man looked kind, approachable.

Aidan spoke slowly. "You're right, it's not the end of the world, but I suppose I thought . . . hoped that it might be a new beginning, liven everything up in my own life. I wouldn't mind the extra hours, I never did. I spend a lot of hours here already. In a way I am a bit like you, you know, wedded to Mountainview."

"I know you are." Mr. Walsh was gentle.

"I never found any of it a chore. I liked my classes and particularly the Transition Year when you can bring them out of themselves a bit, get to know them, let them think. And I even like the parent-teacher evenings, which everyone else hates, because I can remember all the kids and . . . I suppose I like it all except for the politics of it, the sort of jostling-for-position bit." Aidan stopped suddenly. He was afraid there would be a break in his voice, and also he realized that his jostling hadn't worked.

Mr. Walsh was silent.

Outside the room were the noises of a school at four-thirty in the afternoon. In the distance the sounds of bicycle bells shrilling, doors banging, voices shouting as they ran for the buses in each direction. Soon the sound of the cleaners with their buckets and mops, and the hum of the electric polisher, would be heard. It was so familiar, so safe. And until this moment Aidan had thought that there was a very sporting chance that this would be his.

"I suppose it's Tony O'Brien," he said in a defeated tone.

"He seems to be the one they want. Nothing definite yet, not till next week, but that's where their thinking lies."

"I wonder why." Aidan felt almost dizzy with jealousy and confusion.

"Oh search me, Aidan. The man's not even a practicing Catholic. He has the morals of a tomcat. He doesn't love the place, care about it like we do, but they think he's the man for the times that are in it. Tough ways of dealing with tough problems."

"Like beating an eighteen-year-old boy nearly senseless," Aidan said.

"Well, they all think that the boy was a drug dealer, and he certainly didn't come anywhere near the school again."

"You can't run a place like that," Aidan said.

"You wouldn't and I wouldn't but our day is over."

"You're sixty-five, with respect, Mr. Walsh. I am only forty-eight, I didn't think my day was over."

"And it needn't be, Aidan. That's what I'm telling you. You've got a lovely wife and daughters, a life out there. You should build on all that. Don't let Mountainview become like a mistress to you."

"You're very kind and I appreciate what you say. No, I'm not just mouthing words. Truly I do appreciate being warned in advance, makes me look less foolish." And he left the room with a very straight back.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 48 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Evening Class

    Evening Class was my second encounter with Maeve Binchy. I am getting very fond of her. There is something about her way of writing; I don't realize that I am hooked until I've taken a moment away from the book and feel as though I'm missing something! She is so subtle, that Maeve.

    I found the main characters likable and entertaining. The way that Binchy combines their individual stories (within the larger story) is wonderful and thorough. I find myself wanting to jump on a plane and join them in Dublin. Each chapter is from a different person's point of view (as it was in Heart and Soul), and that actually suits this sometimes ADD reader more than I thought it would. Although I have found in the past that this is not my ideal for storytelling, something about the way that Binchy includes other story lines in each subplot, and brings them all back to the bigger story makes her writing delightful.

    Once again the author delivered a heartwarming, feel good, entertaining novel.

    (originally posted on www.coconutlibrary.typepad.com)

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Beautiful Weaving

    Maeve Binchy has an incredible gift of weaving multiple characters, none of whom have to be interconnected, into a plot that connects them all by the end. She captures Irish culture and lifestyle and shares it with a non-Irish world, making us want to catch the first plane to Dublin so we can taste it for ourselves. The average, ordinary activities of life - taking an evening class, for example - become the framework for everyday drama that breaks - and mends - your heart.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2005

    Wow ! What a great find !

    I love the way Ms. Binchy goes into each character in the book, nestled in between each character is the story of the leading characters......and how they all intertwine in some way. I think she's my new favorite author !

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2003

    Wonderful Book!

    This was my first Binchy novel and I couldn't put it down. It was a wonderful story. I just bought 'Circle of Friends'. I look forward to reading it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2002

    Great story

    Enjoyed the story.. Will now read this author. Read it!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2012

    awsome read

    This was my first book by this author. I thiroughly enjiyed reading it. She has a keen sense of pulling yiu into the stiry and feel like you really know the characters. When i finished i immediately ordered the next book, tara road.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2015

    Highly Recommended

    The writing was well done, the characters interesting, the story all came together. If you are learning Italian, this is especially appealing. Some of the characters in this book appear in other Maeve Binchy books, so you get to fill out their life stories.
    Also: every crisis is resolved, and there is always a happy ending.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2014

    She is an acquired taste i suggest borrowing because

    She can be very formatic and her sub genre static if you think worth a re read then do so the more one writes quality goes in place of quanity check those bargin complete works of on nook i have dozens of the classic writers including all of anne of green gables kiplingi austen baum alcott hawthorn shakespear henry james the one most remember is iften the only one worth re reading selective saves space in archive or trying to access forty books in a collection

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 22, 2014

    Love this Book!

    I'm a big Maeve Binchy fan to begin with - so take my remarks with this in mind. This is the second time I read this book, the first time being a few years ago. But the book stayed with me and when our Book Club decided to read this as our next selection, I found myself relishing it all over again. There's something about it that just draws me into it. The fleshing out of the characters and the individual plots would make a short story on their own. But the way the author brings it all together is amazing. Again, I'm a big fan of the author and have read most, if not all, of her books and enjoyed each one. But Evening Class rates as one of my favorites.

    I belong to a Book club and we will be discussing this at our next meeting. I have alaready heard from a few of our memebers how much they enjoyed it. I think it's a perfect book for discussion. I would hope readers would check this out and hopefully enjoy it as much as I have.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014



    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Barnes and Noble. You should remove all of the reviews without a

    Barnes and Noble. You should remove all of the reviews without any text. There is no point in leaving them on line. Any moron can click on a star and hit submit. Those entries are absolutely meaningless. Did they even read the book? My one star is for B&Ns allowing so-cakked reviews to be posted without any comments. This book was a wonderful story as are all of Maeve Binchy's stories. 

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Anoher great one!

    I'm a huge Maeve Binchy fan and this was one I really enjoyed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Characters from other books are woven in to this excellent read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 24, 2010

    A bit predictable but good-

    An Italian woman is in love with a married man- she moves away after he dies, to Ireland and ends up teaching Italian to a mix of students who have different reasons for learning the language. You will fall in love with the characters and will want to learn more about them!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Wonderful, as usual.

    Evening Class is typical Binchy - wonderful! Wonderful characters, wonderful story, wonderful ending.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2006

    Inspires you to enroll in an evening class!

    I love the way you feel close to each character individually as you learn about them and then as they come together for the Italian class and the trip to Italy.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2005

    Fascinating, page-turning book

    This book starts off a little slow, but once you start meeting all the characters involved in the evening class and get a glimpse into their lives and how they are all somehow connected, it becomes very interesting. At times it is hard to keep everyone straight because you are introduced to so many characters and then they are all given an Italian name. But overall, I highly recommend this book. It was very refreshing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2002

    Maeve Binchy does it again!

    Once again, Maeve Binchy gives a stellar class in good writing. Her character descriptions are marvelous and I love how she relates them to each other and how she deftly advances her overall plot line as she 'dissects' each personality. One note of caution: read the book in a small period of time so you won't lose track of the people and events. I couldn't put it down--very fast read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2001

    Another great Binchy read!

    This was my favorite Binchy book yet! I recommend it highly.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2001


    Maeve Binchy has done it again! This is the second book I have read by Binchy and it was great! The other one I read was Tara Road and it was fantastic. Evening Class was so compelling. I loved how she took all of the characters one by one. Wonderful!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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