Minding Frankie

Minding Frankie

3.8 345
by Maeve Binchy
     
 

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When Noel learns that his terminally ill former flame is pregnant with his child, he reluctantly agrees to take care of the baby girl. Along with the help of a caring network of friends, family and neighbors—including Lisa, his broken-hearted classmate, and Emily, his American cousin—Noel adapts to his new responsibilities. But when a nosy social worker

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Overview

When Noel learns that his terminally ill former flame is pregnant with his child, he reluctantly agrees to take care of the baby girl. Along with the help of a caring network of friends, family and neighbors—including Lisa, his broken-hearted classmate, and Emily, his American cousin—Noel adapts to his new responsibilities. But when a nosy social worker decides to get involved, she threatens to ruin their unconventional but special arrangement. It will be up to Noel to persuade her that everyone in the neighborhood has something to offer when it comes to minding Frankie.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Binchy is a national treasure in her homeland of Ireland, and her latest novel is a perfect illustration of why. Old-fashioned and newfangled are totally compatible in contemporary Dublin, where lonely, hard-drinking slacker Noel Lynch discovers he's about to be a single dad now that the one-night-stand/mother of his child, Stella, is dying. Suddenly, the salt-of-the-earth residents of St. Jarlath's Crescent and Noel's resourceful American cousin, Emily, spring into action to keep Noel sober, fire up his ambitions, appease militant social worker Moira, and help raise baby Frankie. It's a hair-raising, heartwarming juggling act for Noel, his quirky roommate Lisa, do-gooder Emily, and a neighborhood crowded with eccentric characters and adorable pooches—including one with a handsome inheritance. Binchy (Heart and Soul) straddles improbable and possible in her touching saga, and if your mind can't quite wrap itself around St. Jarlath's Crescent, your heart will have no trouble recognizing the landscape. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

“One of Binchy’s best works. She harmoniously handles a diverse group of characters, the good deeds that characterize life in Ireland are believable, and the ending is sweet. One hopes to find Frankie in one of Binchy’s future novels.” —Susan Rogers, Newark Star-Ledger
 
“Binchy’s world view is a large, benevolent one, and the reader is happier for it . . . bless her big Irish heart.” —Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Maeve Binchy has done it again [with] yet another warm tale of individual growth and human community, [in which] she assembles a large cast of characters and deploys them with her characteristic playfulness . . . Binchy specializes in exploring human foibles without spelling them out in tiresome detail . . . There’s a good chance that many readers, like this one, will consider Minding Frankie one of Binchy’s best novels yet.” —Maude McDaniel, BookPage
 
“Joyful, quintessential Binchy.” —Karen Holt, O, The Oprah Magazine 
 
“All across America, Maeve Binchy fans will be kicking off their shoes, making a nice cup of tea, and curling up on the couch as they re-enter Binchy’s cozy world. The Irish author returns here to a charming Dublin milieu of favorite characters from past novels, with some important new ones.” —Melinda Bargreen, The Seattle Times
 
“Binchy is a national treasure in her homeland of Ireland, and her latest novel is a perfect illustration of why.…Your heart will have no trouble recognizing the landscape [of this] touching saga.” —Publishers Weekly
 
“Reading a Maeve Binchy novel is like settling in for a cozy visit with an old friend.  In vintage Binchy style, a cast of colorfully eccentric characters living in a snug Dublin neighborhood seamlessly weave in and out of each other’s lives, united by family, faith, friendship and community....Readers will need a box of tissues handy as the good-hearted residents of St. Jarlath’s Crescent prove that it does indeed take a ‘village to raise a child.’” —Margaret Flanagan, Booklist

Library Journal
Fans of Irish author Binchy will welcome the return of some familiar faces (from Quentins; Heart and Soul; Scarlet Feather) and also enjoy meeting new characters in her latest. Frankie is a little girl born as her mother Stella is dying of cancer. During the last stages of her life, Stella contacts Noel, a one-night stand whom she claims is the father. Noel has a host of his own problems but decides to pull things together for the child. Friends and family help out, but the social worker assigned to the case cannot accept the arrangements. Having never dealt with her own troubled childhood, she works to find proof that Frankie would be better off in foster care. The brief appearances of so many characters from previous works might be annoying, but the stories of Noel, his cousin Emily, and his friend Lisa, along with the social worker who wants to pull them apart and the little girl who pulls them together, make this novel fresh and appealing. VERDICT An enjoyable novel about life, love, and second chances. [300,000-copy first printing; see Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/10.]—Beth Blakesley, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
Kirkus Reviews

A Dublin neighborhood full of many of the characters who frequently pass through Binchy's Irish novels (Heart and Soul, 2009, etc.) bands together to help a young single father raise his daughter.

Aware she will not survive her baby's birth, fatally ill Stella tells alcoholic loner Noel that he is the father. He doesn't remember having actual sex with Stella and is far from certain he wants or can handle the responsibility. But with the help and encouragement of his cousin Emily, in Dublin on an extended visit from New York, Noel stops drinking and takes custody of baby Frankie after Stella's death at St. Brigid's Hospital. His transformation from loser to responsible, loving father and his struggle to convince his uptight social worker that he is fit to raise Frankie forms the central plot. But once Noel's in AA and night school, he pales as a character. After so many novels, Binchy's recurring characters have become so numerous that even devotees may have trouble keeping track. Here, hospital administrator Frank Ennis is the one to watch as he reaches out to the grown son he never knew he had. As usual, Binchy's supporting characters steal the show. Social worker Moira seems like the stereotypical uptight bureaucrat at first, but her loneliness and painful self-awareness of her failure to connect to others become increasingly heart-wrenching. Moira has to overcome an unhappy family situation, as does Lisa, a graphic artist who moves in as Noel's platonic housemate to escape her parents' sham marriage, although she's in her own sham love affair with a flashy restaurateur. Circling everywhere, boringly perfect Emily has an uncanny ability to ask the right question and solve problems—everyone in Noel's life has a story. A dram of sorrow leavens the predictably happy ending.

Binchy remains the queen of spiritual comfort, but this time round she's stretched interest thin with ups and downs too many and too mild.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781409117896
Publisher:
Orion
Publication date:
02/28/2011

Read an Excerpt

Binchy: MINDING FRANKIE

Chapter One

Katie Finglas was coming to the end of a tiring day in the salon. Anything bad that could happen had happened. A woman had not told them about an allergy and had come out with lumps and a rash on her forehead. A bride’s mother had thrown a tantrum and said that she looked like a laughingstock. A man who had wanted streaks of blond in his hair became apoplectic when, halfway through the process, he had inquired what they would cost. Katie’s husband, Garry, had placed both his hands innocently on the shoulders of a sixty-year-old female client, who had then told him that she was going to sue him for sexual harassment and assault.

Katie looked now at the man standing opposite her, a big priest with sandy hair mixed with gray.

“You’re Katie Finglas and I gather you run this establishment,” the priest said, looking around the innocent salon nervously as if it were a high-class brothel.

“That’s right, Father,” Katie said with a sigh. What could be happening now?

“It’s just that I was talking to some of the girls who work here, down at the center on the quays, you know, and they were telling me . . .”

Katie felt very tired. She employed a couple of high school dropouts: she paid them properly, trained them. What could they have been complaining about to a priest?

“Yes, Father, what exactly is the problem?” she asked.

“Well, it is a bit of a problem. I thought I should come to you directly, as it were.” He seemed a little awkward.

“Very right, Father,” Katie said. “So tell me what it is.”

“It’s this woman, Stella Dixon. She’s in hospital, you see . . .”

“Hospital?” Katie’s head reeled. What could this involve? Someone who had inhaled the peroxide?

“I’m sorry to hear that.” She tried for a level voice.

“Yes, but she wants a hairdo.”

“You mean she trusts us again?” Sometimes life was extraordinary.

“No, I don’t think she was ever here before. . . .” He looked bewildered.

“And your interest in all this, Father?”

“I am Brian Flynn and I am acting chaplain at St. Brigid’s Hospital at the moment, while the real chaplain is in Rome on a pilgrimage. Apart from being asked to bring in cigarettes and drink for the patients, this is the only serious request I’ve had.”

“You want me to go and do someone’s hair in hospital?”

“She’s seriously ill. She’s dying. I thought she needed a senior person to talk to. Not, of course, that you look very senior. You’re only a girl yourself,” the priest said.

“God, weren’t you a sad loss to the women of Ireland when you went for the priesthood,” Katie said. “Give me her details and I’ll bring my magic bag of tricks in to see her.”

“Thank you so much. I have it all written out here.” Father Flynn handed her a note.

A middle-aged woman approached the desk. She had glasses on the tip of her nose and an anxious expression.

“I gather you teach people the tricks of hairdressing,” she said.

“Yes, or more the art of hairdressing, as we like to call it,” Katie said.

“I have a cousin coming home from America for a few weeks. She mentioned that in America there are places where you could get your hair done for near to nothing cost if you were letting people practice on you.”

“Well, we do have a students’ night on Tuesdays; people bring in their own towels and we give them a style. They usually contribute five euros to a charity.”

“Tonight is Tuesday!” the woman cried triumphantly.

“So it is,” Katie said through gritted teeth.

“So, could I book myself in? I’m Josie Lynch.”

“Great, Mrs. Lynch—see you after seven o’clock,” Katie said, writing down the name. Her eyes met the priest’s. There was sympathy and understanding there.

It wasn’t all champagne and glitter running your own hairdressing salon.

Josie and Charles Lynch had lived in 23 St. Jarlath’s Crescent since they were married thirty-two years ago. They had seen many changes in the area. The corner shop had become a mini-supermarket; the old laundry, where sheets had been ironed and folded, was now a Laundromat, where people left big bags bulky with mixed clothes and asked for a service wash. There was now a proper medical practice with four doctors where once there had been just old Dr. Gillespie, who had brought everyone into the world and seen them out of it.

During the height of the economic boom, houses in St. Jarlath’s Crescent had changed hands for amazing sums of money. Small houses with gardens near the city center had been much in demand. Not anymore, of course—the recession had been a great equalizer, but it was still a much more substantial area than it had been three decades ago.

After all, just look at Molly and Paddy Carroll, with their son Declan—a doctor—a real, qualified doctor! And just look at Muttie and Lizzie Scarlet’s daughter Cathy. She ran a catering company that was hired for top events.

But a lot of things had changed for the worse. There was no community spirit anymore. No church processions went up and down the Crescent on the feast of Corpus Christi, as they used to three decades ago. Josie and Charles Lynch felt that they were alone in the world, and certainly in St. Jarlath’s Crescent, in that they knelt down at night and said the Rosary.

That had always been the way.

When they married they planned a life based on the maxim that the family that prays together stays together. They had assumed they would have eight or nine children, because God never put a mouth into this world that He didn’t feed. But that wasn’t to happen. After Noel, Josie had been told there would be no more children. It was hard to accept. They both came from big families; their brothers and sisters had produced big families. But then, perhaps, it was all meant to be this way.

They had always hoped Noel would be a priest. The fund to educate him for the priesthood was started before he was three. Money was put aside from Josie’s wages at the biscuit factory. Every week a little more was added to the post office savings account, and when Charles got his envelope on a Friday from the hotel where he was a porter, a sum was also put into the post office. Noel would get the best of priestly educations when the time came.

So it was with great surprise and a lot of disappointment that Josie and Charles learned that their quiet son had no interest whatsoever in a religious life. The Brothers said that he showed no sign of a vocation, and when the matter had been presented to Noel as a possibility when he was fourteen, he had said if it was the last job on earth he wouldn’t go for it.

That had been very definite indeed.

Not so definite, however, was what he actually would like to do. Noel was vague about this, except to say he might like to run an office. Not work in an office, but run one. He showed no interest in studying office management or bookkeeping or accounting or in any areas where the careers department tried to direct him. He liked art, he said, but he didn’t want to paint. If pushed, he would say that he liked looking at paintings and thinking about them. He was good at drawing; he always had a notebook and a pencil with him and he was often to be found curled up in a corner sketching a face or an animal. This did not, of course, lead to any career path, but Noel had never expected it to. He did his homework at the kitchen table, sighing now and then, but rarely ever excited or enthusiastic. At the parent-teacher meetings Josie and Charles had inquired about this. They wondered, Did anything at school fire him up? Anything at all?

The teachers were at a loss. Most boys were unfathomable around fourteen or fifteen but they had usually settled down to do something. Or often to do nothing. Noel Lynch, they said, had just become even more quiet and withdrawn than he already was.

Josie and Charles wondered, Could this be right?

Noel was quiet, certainly, and it had been a great relief to them that he hadn’t filled the house up with loud young lads thumping one another. But they had thought this was part of his spiritual life, a preparation for a future as a priest. Now it appeared that this was certainly not the case.

Perhaps, Josie suggested, it was only the Brothers’ brand of religious life that Noel objected to. In fact, he might have a different kind of vocation and want to become a Jesuit or a missionary?

Apparently not.

And when he was fifteen he said that he didn’t really want to join in the family Rosary anymore; it was only a ritual of meaningless prayers chanted in repetition. He didn’t mind doing good for people, trying to make less fortunate people have a better life, but surely no God could want this fifteen minutes of drone drone drone.

By the time he was sixteen they realized that he didn’t go to Sunday Mass anymore. Someone had seen him up by the canal when he was meant to have been to the early Mass up in the church on the corner. He told them that there was no point in his staying on at school, as there was nothing more he needed to learn from them. They were hiring office staff up at Hall’s and they would train him in office routine. He might as well go to work straightaway rather than hang about.

The Brothers and the teachers at his school said it was always a pity to see a boy study and leave without a qualification, but still, they said, shrugging, it was very hard trying to interest the lad in anything at all. He seemed to be sitting and waiting for his schooldays to end. Could even be for the best if he left school now. Get him into Hall’s, the big builders’ merchants; give him a wage every week and then they might see where, if anywhere, his interest lay.

Josie and Charles thought sadly of the fund that had been growing in the post office for years. Money that would never be spent making Noel Lynch into a reverend. A kindly Brother suggested that maybe they should spend it on a holiday for themselves, but Charles and Josie were shocked. This money had been saved for God’s work; it would be spent on God’s work.

Noel got his place in Hall’s. He met his work colleagues but without any great enthusiasm. They would not be his friends and companions any more than his fellow students at the Brothers had become mates. He didn’t want to be alone all the time, but it was often easier.

Over the years Noel had arranged with his mother that he would not join them at meals. He would have his lunch in the middle of the day and he would make a snack for himself in the evening. This way he missed the Rosary, the socializing with pious neighbors and the interrogation about what he had done with his day, which was the natural accompaniment to mealtimes in the Lynch household.

He took to coming home later and later. He also took to visiting Casey’s pub on the journey home—a big barn of a place, both comforting and anonymous at the same time. It was familiar because everyone knew his name.

“I’ll drop it down to you, Noel,” the loutish son of the house would say. Old Man Casey, who said little but noticed everything, would look over his spectacles as he polished the beer glasses with a clean linen cloth.

“Evening, Noel,” he would say, managing to combine the courtesy of being the landlord with the sense of disapproval he had of Noel. He was, after all, an acquaintance of Noel’s father. It was as if he were glad that Casey’s was getting the price of the pint—or several pints—as the night went on but as well as this he seemed disappointed that Noel was not spending his wages more wisely. Yet Noel liked the place. It wasn’t a trendy pub with fancy prices. It wasn’t full of girls giggling and interrupting a man’s drinking. People left him alone here.

That was worth a lot.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“One of Binchy’s best works. She harmoniously handles a diverse group of characters, the good deeds that characterize life in Ireland are believable, and the ending is sweet. One hopes to find Frankie in one of Binchy’s future novels.” —Susan Rogers, Newark Star-Ledger
 
“Binchy’s world view is a large, benevolent one, and the reader is happier for it . . . bless her big Irish heart.” —Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Maeve Binchy has done it again [with] yet another warm tale of individual growth and human community, [in which] she assembles a large cast of characters and deploys them with her characteristic playfulness . . . Binchy specializes in exploring human foibles without spelling them out in tiresome detail . . . There’s a good chance that many readers, like this one, will consider Minding Frankie one of Binchy’s best novels yet.” —Maude McDaniel, BookPage
 
“Joyful, quintessential Binchy.” —Karen Holt, O, The Oprah Magazine 
 
“All across America, Maeve Binchy fans will be kicking off their shoes, making a nice cup of tea, and curling up on the couch as they re-enter Binchy’s cozy world. The Irish author returns here to a charming Dublin milieu of favorite characters from past novels, with some important new ones.” —Melinda Bargreen, The Seattle Times
 
“Binchy is a national treasure in her homeland of Ireland, and her latest novel is a perfect illustration of why.…Your heart will have no trouble recognizing the landscape [of this] touching saga.” —Publishers Weekly
 
“Reading a Maeve Binchy novel is like settling in for a cozy visit with an old friend.  In vintage Binchy style, a cast of colorfully eccentric characters living in a snug Dublin neighborhood seamlessly weave in and out of each other’s lives, united by family, faith, friendship and community....Readers will need a box of tissues handy as the good-hearted residents of St. Jarlath’s Crescent prove that it does indeed take a ‘village to raise a child.’” —Margaret Flanagan, Booklist

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