Quentinsby Maeve Binchy
Ella Brady thinks so. She wants to film a documentary about Quentins that will capture the spirit of Dublin from the 1970s to the present day. And Quentins has a thousand stories to tell: tales of love, of betrayal, of revenge; of times when it looked ready for success
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Is it possible to tell the story of a generation and a city through the history of a restaurant?
Ella Brady thinks so. She wants to film a documentary about Quentins that will capture the spirit of Dublin from the 1970s to the present day. And Quentins has a thousand stories to tell: tales of love, of betrayal, of revenge; of times when it looked ready for success and times when it seemed as if it must close in failure. But as Ella uncovers more of what has gone on at Quentins, she begins to wonder whether some secrets should be kept that way...
With Quentins, Maeve Binchy follows her bestselling Scarlet Feather with a new book that delivers the hallmark storytelling that has kept millions of her readers happy for more than twenty years.
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Read an Excerpt
Brenda and her friend Nora had been inseparable during catering college. They made plans for life, which varied a bit depending on what was happening. Sometimes they thought they would go to Paris together and learn from a French chef. Then they might set up a thirty-bedroom hotel in the countryside, which would have a waiting list of six months for people trying to come and stay.
In reality, of course, it was slightly different. Shifts here and there and a lot of waitressing. Too many people after the same jobs, plenty of young men and women with experience. Nora and Brenda found it hard going at the start.
So they went to London, where two things of great significance happened. Nora met an Italian man called Mario who said he loved her more than he loved life itself. And Nora certainly loved him as much, if not more.
Brenda at the time caught a heavy cold, which turned into pneumonia, and as a result lost her hearing for a time. She regarded this deafness as a terrible blow. She, who could almost hear the grass grow before her illness.
"I was never sympathetic enough to deaf people," she wept to the busy doctor who gave her leaflets on lip-reading classes and told her to stop this self-pity, her hearing would return in time.
So Brenda went to the classes, mainly much older people, men and women struggling with hearing aids.
She learned how to practice on a VCR machine. You watched the news with the volume turned down over and over until you could guess what they were saying, and then you turned it up very high to check if you were right.
Miss Hill, the teacher, loved Brenda, as she was so eager to learn. Brenda learned tostudy people's faces as they spoke, trying to make sense of what she couldn't hear. Brenda understood that the hard letters to hear were the ones in the middle of a word. Most people could read the word "pay" or "pan," for example, but it was much harder to see a hidden consonant like an L or an R in the middle of a word. "Pray" or "plan" were much more difficult to work out. You had to do that from the meaning of the sentence.
Brenda had taken to it all so much, she hardly realized when her normal hearing returned. By this stage she could read conversations across a room.
Nora and Mario were very impressed. "If all else fails, we can put you in a circus," Nora cried, delighted.
"And I will sell tickets outside," Mario promised.
But they all knew this wouldn't happen. Mario was going back shortly to Sicily to marry his fiancée, the girl Gabriella, who lived next door to him back there.
Nora knew this too, but she just would not accept it. She was not going to stay in London without Mario, or go back to Ireland to cry over him there. She would follow him to Sicily and all it would bring.
Brenda was lonely in London when her friend had gone. She was bewildered by a love so great that it could withstand such humiliation. In her letters, Nora wrote of how she lived in a bed-sitting room in the village that looked down on Mario's hotel. How she saw his wedding and the children's christenings and was slowly becoming part of the life of the place.
Brenda could never have loved like that. Sometimes she wondered if she would ever love at all. She came back to Dublin, but it was the same there. Nobody filled her days and nights with passion like Mario had been able to do for Nora O'Donoghue. Everyone said that Brenda was cool and calm in a crisis, a great reliable person to have around if someone spilled the gravy or dropped a tray. Brenda wondered was she going to be like that all her life, look calm and unflappable. Never in love like the couples she served at table, never upset and aching like the colleagues she consoled in kitchens when their love affairs were shaky. Never to marry even as two of her younger sisters had married, with huge drama and great expenditure of nerves. Brenda had been there, cups of tea, aspirins and calm advice at the ready.
She didn't know why she went to the dance that night. Possibly to have something to write to Nora about. It was for past pupils of their catering college. Maybe she hoped she might hear of some job opportunities.
She wore the new dress she had bought for her sister's wedding. It was very dressy, cream lace with a rose pink jacket. It looked good with her dark hair. She thought that she got many admiring looks, but perhaps she was only imagining it.
Across the room she suddenly saw Pillowcase. Now, she couldn't remember why she and Nora had called him that, an overserious fellow, head in his books, barely any time to socialize. She heard he had gone to some high-flying place in Scotland, that he had been with a pastry cook in France. What was he doing back here? And even more important, what was his name, Paddy, Pat?
She looked over at him. As clearly as if the words were written like subtitles, she read his lips and heard him say to the man he was with, "Will you look at that? It's Brenda O'Hara from our year in college. Isn't she a very fine-looking girl. I haven't seen her in years. Very classy altogether." He seemed full of admiration.
The man he was with, a loudmouth whom Brenda knew around town, said, "Oh, you'll get nowhere there. Real ice maiden, let me tell you."
"Well, I'll go over and say hallo. She can't take offense at that." He walked toward her.
Sometimes she felt a little guilty at having advance knowledge because of her extra hearing due to the lip reading. Why hadn't the other eejit said his name, so that at least she'd know that much.
Pillowcase approached her with a broad smile. He had smartened himself up. He looked taller, or else he didn't crouch over so much.
"Patrick Brennan," he said as he shook her hand.
"Brenda O'Hara, delighted to see you again." She must beat the silly nickname out of her mind.
"Don't I remember you and Nora O'Donoghue very well, and is she here tonight as well?"
"Sometime when you have an hour, remind me to tell you what happened to Nora," Brenda laughed.
"I have an hour and more now, Brenda," he said.
Would she have seen the admiration in his face anyhow, or was it because she had lip-read his praise of her that Brenda turned her charm on Patrick Brennan?
Whatever it was, she saw him most evenings for the next two weeks. He seemed pleased that she still lived with her family. "I'd have thought a glamour girl like you would have gone off with a rich man long ago," he teased.
"No, no, I'm an ice maiden, didn't they tell you that?" she teased him back.
"I think I heard it said." He shuffled awkwardly.
She wrote about him to Nora. "He's still very serious about work. He'd rather do nothing than work for a place that he doesn't think is worth it. He says I'm wasting myself doing waitress shifts here, there and anywhere. He'll do construction work or deliver cases of wine rather than work in a kitchen, which would give him a bad name. But I don't agree. It's all work. You're learning all the time and anyway, he's a man who doesn't even have a flat of his own. He sleeps on people's sofas or floors. He doesn't notice."
He told her about the small farm in the country where he grew up, how his younger brother, who wasn't exactly simpleminded but not far off it, lived there still. She told him about the corner shop where her father had worked so hard to make a living. They went to the cinema and sometimes she paid if Patrick had no money. They went to Mick's café for old time's sake.
One lunchtime as she unpacked their sandwiches to eat by the Grand Canal, she said to him firmly that she had her own plans as to how they would spend the evening.
"I live at home, Patrick. For over a month now I've been going out every single night with you."
"Yes?" He looked anxious.
"So I'd like to let them see you, know the kind of person I'm meeting."
"No, you don't understand. It's not for them to inspect you. It's not a gun to your head. It's common courtesy."
"No, I agree entirely. I thought you were going to say you were tired of going out with me. When we have a daughter, won't we feel the very same way about her, want to know her friends."
"What?" said Brenda.
"When we have a daughter. It's not the same with sons."
"But what are you saying, exactly?"
He looked at her, bewildered. "When we're married. We will have children, won't we?" He was genuinely concerned.
"Patrick, excuse me. Did I miss something here? Did you ask me to marry you? Did I say yes? It's quite a big thing. I should have remembered it, I know I should."
He held her hand. "You will, won't you?" he begged.
"I don't know, Patrick. I really don't know yet."
"What else would you do?" he said, alarmed.
"Well, a number of things. I might marry no one. Or I might marry someone else, as yet unmet. Or I might marry you in the fullness of time when we knew that we loved each other."
"But don't we know now?"
"No, we don't. We haven't talked about it at all."
"We haven't stopped talking about what we'll do," he said.
"But that's work, Patrick, what jobs we'll get."
"No, it's about what kind of life we'll live. I thought it was about our life together."
"This is nonsense, Patrick." She stood up, upset. "You can't take us for granted like that. We're not even lovers." She was very indignant.
"It's not for want of trying," he protested.
"Not on the sofa of some ghastly flat with half of Dublin about to walk through the door with cans of Guinness any minute."
'"So what do you want, Brenda? A night in a B and B and for me to go down on one knee? Is that it?"
"No." She was hurt and angry. "Not that at all. It sounds ludicrous. I do like you, Patrick, you fool. Why else was I inviting you home? But I want love and passion and desire and all those things too. Not a casual munching on a sandwich and talking about our daughter as if it were all planned."
"I'm sorry I did it wrong," he said.
"If I thought you loved me and would take any kind of job like I do while saving for a home, and if you talked more rather than having glum silences about your future. And if you asked me properly and ... well, if you desired me ... I can't think of a better word, then I would strongly think of marrying you, and sooner rather than later. But it's useless now, because if you do all those things it's only my having written the script and my having fed you the lines."
"So I can't come to supper? Is this what you're saying?" he asked.
"No, you clown, come to supper," she said, and went away fast before he could see the tears in her eyes.
That night she reassured her mother that there was nothing in it. "He's just a friend, Mam, a quiet friend without much to say for himself. Can anyone of your sex-mad older generation realize that people in their twenties can be friends these days?"
At supper, Patrick Brennan brought flowers to her mother and sat down to have chicken and ham pie. And from the moment he came in the door, he never stopped talking. He praised the lightness of the pastry and flavor of the sauce. He admired the cushion covers which Mrs. O'Hara had embroidered. He begged to see the wedding albums. He asked Mr. O'Hara where he got fresh vegetables and told him of a cheaper place. And when they were all worn out trying to get a word in edgeways, he told them all, her two younger sisters included, that he loved Brenda but up to now had no prospects and no hope of being able to make a home for her. But suddenly on the canal bank he had gotten enlightenment and he realized it was a matter of any old job in catering until they had a home and he could go and build their dream.
The O'Haras were astonished at him. Brenda was dumbfounded. When he left, they said he was a very nice fellow indeed, gabby though, very overtalkative, hyper almost. Hadn't Brenda said he was quiet?
"I got it wrong," Brenda said humbly.
In weeks he had found them a job together, Patrick as chef and Brenda as front-of-house manager.
"You despise this kind of place," she said.
"What does it matter, Brenda? A month's salary, and we'll have our bed-sitter," he said.
"We can have it now from my savings," she said.
They found one that day, and they practiced passion and desire that night and found it fine.
They were married very shortly after that, a simple wedding with just cake and wine. It was a beautiful cake made and iced by Patrick and much photographed.
There was a series of jobs, none of them really satisfactory, none of them giving scope to what they thought they could do. But they had no money, no one to back them, to set them up in a place where they could make their mark.
And as time went by there was no sign of the daughter they had spoken of, or the son. But they were still young and perhaps it was better that they didn't have to worry yet about raising a family.
They worked in a place which served only food smothered in batter. In another, where there was after-hours drinking and people wanted omelets way into the night. They tried to take over an office canteen but were given so little money, it was impossible to present decent food. Finally, they were in a place where they realized that tax avoidance and cutting corners were going to have it closed down. This last place began to break their hearts. Particularly, since the management was supercilious and snobbish and made the guests feel uneasy.
"We'll have to leave here," Brenda said. "If you saw how they humiliate people in the dining room."
"Don't let's go until we have somewhere else," Patrick begged.
That very next night Brenda saw the nice boy Quentin Barry, whom she often met when doing extra afternoon shifts at Hayward's. He was with his mother and had chosen a quiet table far across the room from her.
It was a quiet night. She had served her tables. Quietly she took off her shoes as she stood behind a serving table with its long tablecloth hiding her indiscretion from the restaurant. Her shoes were tight and high and she had been on her feet since eight a.m. It was bliss to be in her stocking feet.
She looked across at the mother and son talking. Very alike in blond and handsome looks but not in manner. Mrs. Barry was fussy and very self-conscious. Quentin was gentle and a listener. But not tonight. He was telling his mother about something that seemed to astonish her.
Automatically, Brenda tuned in. She didn't have any sense of eavesdropping; to her this was as if they were speaking at the top of their voices.
"You only get peanuts, working as a waiter," Sara Barry was saying.
"I got enough working there to keep myself for several years." Quentin was quiet.
"Yes, but you can't buy a place, Quentin. Be serious, sweetheart. You're not the kind of person who can buy a place and make a restaurant out of it."
"It's not very smart now. In fact, Mick's café, well, it's very down at heel, but if I get the right people ..."
"No, darling, listen to me. You know nothing of business. You'd be bankrupt in a month ..."
"I'll get people who would know, people who were trained, who would do it right."
"You'd tire of it every day. The anxiety ..."
"I wouldn't be there. I'd be traveling."
"I feel quite weak, Quentin," Sara said.
"No, Mother. Don't feel weak. I just wanted you to know how happy I am. I haven't been happy for a very long time. You used to tell me I was the love and the light of your life. I thought you'd be pleased to know I am so happy."
Brenda then for the first time realized she was in a private conversation and looked away. She put on her shoes, walked to the kitchen on unsteady feet.
"Patrick," she said. "Could you pour me a small brandy?"
"You look as if you've seen a ghost."
"I've seen our future," she said.
And in a matter of days it was sorted out.
It would be their future to turn Mick's café into the restaurant they had always dreamed of.
"What will you call it?" they asked Quentin.
"If you don't think it's too arrogant, I think my own name," he said shyly. "And now, can I ask you one thing-how did you hear I was buying Mick's place? I know he didn't tell anyone, and I didn't tell anyone. So it's a mystery." He smiled.
Brenda paused. "I don't put it on my CV. It's not a nice quality. But I lip-read. I heard you telling your mother." She looked down.
"It's a good quality to have when you run a restaurant," Quentin said. "I bet we'll be glad of it through the years."
-Reprinted from Quentins by Maeve Binchy by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2002 by Maeve Binchy. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
What People are saying about this
"A comfortable novel that's easy to sink into and lose yourself in." -Boston Globe
"A very cozy yarn...Relax and enjoy." -St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"What is it about this writer that rivets her readers? ... You can't wait to see what happens next."
Meet the Author
Maeve Binchy was born in County Dublin and educated at the Holy Child convent in Killiney and at University College, Dublin. After a spell as a teacher she joined the Irish Times. Her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, was published in 1982 and she went on to write over twenty books, all of them bestsellers. Several have been adapted for cinema and television, most notably Circle of Friends and Tara Road . Maeve Binchy received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Book Awards in 1999 and the Irish PEN/A.T. Cross award in 2007. In 2010 she was presented with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord G??is Irish Book Awards by the President of Ireland. She was married to the writer and broadcaster Gordon Snell for 35 years, and died in 2012. Visit her website at www.maevebinchy.com
- Dublin, Ireland, and London, England
- Date of Birth:
- May 28, 1940
- Place of Birth:
- Dalkey, a small village outside Dublin, Ireland
- Holy Child Convent in Killiney; B.A. in history, University College, Dublin, 1960
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