Scarlet Feather

( 104 )

Overview

They met in cooking school—and became fast friends with a common dream. Now, Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather hope to take Dublin by storm with their newly formed catering company, aptly dubbed “Scarlet Feather.” Not everyone, however, shares their optimism. Cathy’s mother-in-law disapproves of both Cathy and her new “hobby,” while Cathy’s husband Neil pays no mind to anything—except his work as a civil rights lawyer. And then there’s Tom’s family, who expect him to follow in his father’s footsteps, and an ambitious...

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Overview

They met in cooking school—and became fast friends with a common dream. Now, Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather hope to take Dublin by storm with their newly formed catering company, aptly dubbed “Scarlet Feather.” Not everyone, however, shares their optimism. Cathy’s mother-in-law disapproves of both Cathy and her new “hobby,” while Cathy’s husband Neil pays no mind to anything—except his work as a civil rights lawyer. And then there’s Tom’s family, who expect him to follow in his father’s footsteps, and an ambitious girlfriend who’s struggling with career dreams of her own. Between friends and families, ups and downs, heartaches and joys, Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather are about to embark on the most maddening—and exhilarating—year of their lives….

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Following the international success of Tara Road, Maeve Binchy offers Scarlet Feather, an enchanting and richly plotted new tale of family, friendship, honesty, and deception. This time out, the beloved author sets her story against the dynamic social and economic whirl of modern Ireland, tracing the interconnected destinies of an engaging cast of Dubliners over the course of a single unforgettable year. The novel opens with an uncharacteristically graceless series of character sketches designed to plunk readers squarely in medias res with as little fuss or literary artifice as possible. However, once these introductions have been made, Binchy quickly atones for this perfunctory exercise in stage-setting with a bravura demonstration of her vaunted storytelling skills.

Tom Feather and Cathy Scarlet have been the best of friends since they attended cooking school. If not for a simple twist of fate, they might once have become lovers. But now Cathy, from homely St. Jarlath's Crescent, is married to Neil, a human rights lawyer and scion of the upper-crust Mitchell family. If Neil's posh parents have never been able to forget (or forgive) the fact that Cathy's "poor" mother, Lizzie, once cleaned and scrubbed their family manse, Cathy, for her part, is proud of her working-class accent and fierce independence. Charming and handsome, Tom has turned his back on the family construction business to pursue the dream of opening his own catering shop. His longtime significant other, the equally stunning Marcella, steadfastly refuses to marry him for fear of jeopardizing her nascent modeling career.

The catalyst that upsets the delicate balance between these two "happy" couples, their extended families at home and abroad, and an assortment of clients, pets, petty criminals, and racetrack touts is the discovery late one New Year's Eve of a suitable location from which to launch Cathy and Tom's gourmet catering company, Scarlet Feather.

As the cherished idea of Scarlet Feather transforms itself into a true labor of love -- with special emphasis on labor -- tensions begin to grow between Neil and Cathy, Tom and Marcella. Each couple learns that maintaining a relationship with a work-obsessed, absentee mate becomes increasingly difficult when both partners are equally consumed by their toil. Factor in the unexpected desiderata of everyday life -- financial woes, "innocent" deceptions, and the odd family crisis (most comically, the adoption of a pair of precocious, semi-feral twins) -- and Tom and Cathy soon find that the price of success may be far greater than the cost of failure.

In Scarlet Feather, Maeve Binchy has once again delivered a broad, lighthearted entertainment that also compellingly addresses very real social issues -- from the bureaucracy of the foster care system to the erosion of age-old class distinctions to the rise of the new materialism attending Ireland's economic miracle. And, like the mouthwatering culinary creations concocted in Tom and Cathy's kitchen, Scarlet Feather is likely to whet your appetite for more delicious fiction from Binchy. (Greg Marrs)

USA Today
...a great read: engaging, fast-paced and suspenseful.
New York Times Book Review
...[a] highly readable memoir...
Susan Kelly
In Scarlet Feather, Binchy again proves herself a master storyteller, expertly setting out a smorgasbord of plot lines and flavoring it all with dollops of humor and compassion.
USA Today
From The Critics
Novelist Binchy is another bestselling Irish writer with a new book out this summer. This time around, she introduces Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, close pals who finally open the catering business they have been dreaming of since college. Cathy's husband's cousins, Simon and Maud, are perhaps the most memorable of Binchy's characters, which in this book include an array of spouses, friends and family members. Simon and Maud, eight-year-old twins abandoned by their immediate family, have come to live with Cathy's parents. Their serious outlook on life is both touching and, ironically, hilarious. Other than some of the lively characters, especially the children, little about the novel stands out. It is fast-moving but predictable. It entertains moderately, but it lacks the tenderness and cassette-flipping appeal of Binchy's last novel, Tara Road. Although Caroline Winterson often reads her lines too quickly, she does vary the characters' voices, giving each just enough personality to keep them distinct. The upbeat Irish music that begins and ends each tape is a nice touch.
—Rochelle O'Gorman

(Excerpted Review)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Bestselling author Binchy (Tara Road, etc.) again explores the depths of family relationships in an 11th warm, involving drama. Set in contemporary Ireland over a period of one year, the smartly paced tale focuses on Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, cooking school chums who achieve their dream of opening a posh catering business, Scarlet Feather, in Dublin. Professionally, they're off to a good start; personally, their lives are falling apart. Cathy, whose out-of-work father plays the races while her mother toils as a housemaid, faces the consequences of having married Neil Mitchell, prized son of an upper-class family who employed Cathy's mother for years. Neil, a lawyer who champions worthy causes, is unconcerned about the tension between his wife and his snooty mother, and Cathy and Neil find themselves leading busy, separate lives. Tom has a live-in girlfriend whom he would love to marry, but Marcella, a manicurist in a classy store, yearns to succeed as a model before making any commitments. A charming cast of secondary characters includes Neil's cousins, Simon and Maud, two abandoned, nine-year-old twins who, in a surprising turn of events, come to live with Cathy's parents. The children's deadpan, exceedingly serious outlook on life is both heartbreaking and hilarious. One of Binchy's strengths is her subtle depiction of gradual changes in Irish society. By making her principal characters entrepreneurs, she reflects the ways Ireland's growing economic prosperity has altered social mores. Whether her readers are aware of such details, they help this wonderfully engaging book ring true. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This novel (following the very popular Tara Road) has all of Binchy's trademark warmth, making it irresistible to most readers. It tells the story of Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, who are building a Dublin catering company, Scarlet Feather. The plot follows the ups and downs of their personal lives as well as the ins and outs of professional food provision. It is obvious throughout that Tom and Cathy are ill suited to their partners (Cathy's husband is an idealistic lawyer full of his own importance, while Tom's fiancée is an air-headed model). Subplots include the shop's vandalism and recovery, its mysterious secrets from the past, and several entertaining catering stories (including two "weddings from hell"). Best of all are Cathy's nine-year-old abandoned cousins, the Mitchell twins, who provide comic relief throughout her personal and business struggles. These darlings can be relied on to make totally inappropriate responses in every situation, winning the hearts of all. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/00.]--Carol J. Bissett, New Braunfels P.L., TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another entertaining tale of contemporary Ireland with a big gathering of representative types—the addicted, the lonely, the unhappy—whose lives connect as two chefs start a catering business and cope with crises in work and love. The story begins on New Year's Eve and follows the major players through the following year. Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather have been good friends ever since they met at catering school. Tired of doing events out of their own small kitchens, they want a place with an office, as well as enough storage room for a joint company. Cathy is married to Neil Mitchell, an idealistic lawyer, whose mother Hannah cannot forgive Cathy, the daughter of the Mitchells' former housekeeper, for marrying her son. Soon after her latest acrimonious encounter with her mother-in-law, Cathy and Tom find the ideal premises for Scarlet Feather. While they complete the necessary renovations and begin drumming up business, their lives are complicated by family problems. Cathy finds herself taking care of nine-year-old twins Simon and Maud, who have been abandoned by their parents, Neil's uncle and aunt; planning a wedding for her sister; and dealing with Neil's obsession with his work and her unexpected pregnancy. In the meantime, Tom breaks up with his girlfriend Marcella, who heads for London and the modeling career she's dreamed of. Scarlet Feather is robbed and vandalized. Then, as Christmas nears, Cathy suffers a miscarriage, and Neil's cool response leads her to question her marriage. As their debts mount, Scarlet Feather faces bankruptcy. But the twins, now living with Cathy's parents, miraculously save the day, and the new year begins withtheabundant promise ofgood things for those deserving few. More a buffet with lots of variety and a few standouts than a thematically distinctive menu, but Binchy still serves up a narrative feast.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451203779
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/26/2002
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 99,858
  • Product dimensions: 4.26 (w) x 6.66 (h) x 1.24 (d)

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

Biography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

Good To Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read an Excerpt

New Year's Eve

On the radio show they were asking people what kind of a New Year's Eve did they really want. It was very predictable. Those who were staying at home doing nothing wanted to be out partying, those who were too busy and rushed wanted to go to bed with a cup of tea and be asleep before the festivities began.

Cathy Scarlet smiled grimly as she packed more trays of food into the van. There could hardly be anyone in Ireland who would answer the question by saying that they really and truly wanted to spend the night catering a supper party for a mother-in-law. Now that was the punishment posting tonight, feeding Hannah Mitchell's guests at Oaklands. Why was she doing it then? Partly for practice, and of course it would be a good way to meet potential customers. Jock and Hannah Mitchell knew the kind of people who could afford caterers. But mainly she was doing it because she wanted to prove to Hannah Mitchell that she could. That Cathy, daughter of poor Lizzie Scarlet, the maid who cleaned Oaklands, who had married the only son of the house, Neil, was well able to run her own business and hold her head as high as any of them.

Neil Mitchell was in his car when he heard the radio program. It annoyed him greatly. Anyone looking at him from another car would have seen his sharp, handsome face frown. People often thought they recognized him; his face was familiar from television, but he wasn't an actor. He just turned up on the screen so often, pushing the hair out of his eyes, passionate, concerned and caring, always the spokes- person for the underdog. He had the bright burning eyes of a crusader. This kind of whining and moaning on a radio show really drove him mad. People who had everything, a home, a job, a family, all telephoning a radio station to complain about the pressures of life. They were all so lucky and just too selfish to realize it. Unlike the man that Neil was going to see now, a Nigerian who would give anything to have the problems of these fools on the radio program. His papers were not in order due to bungling and messing, and there was grave danger he would have to leave Ireland in the next forty-eight hours. Neil, who was a member of a lawyers' group set up to protect refugees, had been asked to come to a strategy meeting. It could go on for several hours. His mother had warned him not to be late at Oaklands, it was an important party, she said.

"I do hope that poor Cathy will be able to manage it," she had said to Neil.

"Don't let her hear you calling her poor Cathy, if you want your guests to get any food," he had laughed.

It was idiotic, this nonsense between his mother and his wife; he and his father stayed well away from it. It was obvious anyway that Cathy had won, so what was it all about?

Tom Feather was going through the property section of the newspaper yet again. A puzzled look was on his face. He lay across the small sofa-there was never room for his long limbs and big frame unless he draped himself somehow over the whole thing. If he could put a chair at one end for his feet to rest on, it was fairly comfortable; someday he would live in a place where there was a sofa big enough to fit him. It was all very well to have the broad-shouldered rugby-player's build, but not if you needed to sit down and study the Premises Vacant ads. He shook out the newspaper. There had to be something he hadn't noticed. Some kind of premises with a room that could be made into a catering kitchen. He and Cathy Scarlet had worked so hard to make this happen. Since their first year at catering college they were going to set up Dublin's best home catering company. The whole idea of serving people great food in their own homes at reasonable prices was something that fired them both. They had worked so hard, and now they had made contacts and got the funding, all they needed was somewhere to operate from. Cathy and Neil's little town house in Waterview, though very elegant, was far too small to consider, and the flat in Stoneyfield where he lived with Marcella was even tinier. They had to find somewhere soon. He was half listening to the radio program. What would he really like to do on this New Year's Eve? Find the perfect place for their company to set itself up, and then he would like to stay at home with Marcella and to stroke her beautiful hair as they sat by the fire and talked about the future. No, of course that wasn't going to happen.

Marcella Malone worked in the beauty salon of Hayward's store. She was possibly the most beautiful manicurist that any of the clients had ever seen. Tall and willowy, with a cloud of dark hair, she had that kind of oval face and olive skin that schoolgirls dreamed of having. At the same time, she had a quiet, unthreatening way about her that made older, uglier, fatter people take to her despite her beauty. The clients felt that some of her good looks might rub off on them, and she always seemed interested in whatever they had to say.

They had the radio on in the salon, and people there were talking about the topic. Clients were interested and joined in the argument, nobody really got what they wanted on New Year's Eve. Marcella said nothing. She bent her beautiful face over the nails that she was doing and thought how lucky she was. She had everything she wanted. She had Tom Feather, the most handsome and loving man that any girl could want. And even more, she had been photographed recently at two very good connections. A knitwear promotion and at a charity fashion show where amateurs had modeled clothes at a fund-raiser. This looked like the year it could all happen for her. She had a very good portfolio of pictures now, and Ricky, the photographer who had taken them, was giving a very glitzy party. A lot of media people would be there and she and Tom had been invited. If things worked well she would have an agent and a proper modeling contract, and she would not be working as manicurist in Hayward's by this time next year.

It would have been lovely for Cathy if Tom could have come with her to Oaklands. Moral support and company in that kitchen, which held so many bad memories for her, and also it would have halved the work. But Tom had to go to some do with Marcella, which was fair enough, it was going to help her career. She was so beautiful, Marcella, she just made people stop and look at her. Tall and thin, with a smile that would light up a night. No wonder she wanted to be a model, and it was amazing that she wasn't established as one already. But then Neil had said he would help and also they had hired Walter, Neil's cousin, to be barman. And she had kept it fairly simple, nothing too tricky; she and Tom had slaved on it all morning.

"It's not fair, your doing all this," Cathy said. "She's not going to pay us, you know."

"It's an investment ... We might make a rake of contacts," he said good-naturedly.

"There's nothing in this lot that could make anyone sick, is there?" Cathy begged him.

She had a vision of all Hannah Mitchell's guests going around holding their stomachs and groaning with some terrible food poisoning. He had said she was getting sillier by the hour, and he must be mad himself to have such an unhinged business partner. No one would have lent them money if they realized how the cool-looking Cathy Scarlet was actually a bag of nerves.

"I'll be fine with real people," Cathy reassured him. "It's just Hannah."

"Give yourself plenty of time, go there early, fill the van with swirling music to calm yourself down and ring me tomorrow," he soothed her.

"If I survive. Enjoy tonight."

"Well, it's one of those noisy things at Ricky's studio," he said.

"Happy New Year, and say it to Marcella too."

"This time next year-imagine ...," he said.

"I know, a great success story," Cathy said, looking much brighter than she actually felt.

It had been the way they got by. One being over-cheery and optimistic when the other was in any way down or doubtful. And now the van was packed. Neil wasn't home, he had to go to a consultation. He wasn't like an ordinary lawyer, she thought proudly; he didn't have office hours or large consultancy fees. If someone was in trouble, he was there. It was as simple as that. It was why she loved him.

They had known each other since they were children but had hardly ever met. During all the years that Cathy's mother had worked at Oaklands, Neil had been away at boarding school and then hardly home during his college years. He had moved out to an apartment when he was called to the Bar. It was such a chance that she should have met him again in Greece. If he had gone to one of the other villas, or she had been cooking on another island that month, then they would never have got to know each other and never fallen in love. And wouldn't Hannah Mitchell have been a happier woman tonight? Cathy told herself to put it out of her mind. She was still much too early to go to Oaklands, Hannah would just fuss and whimper over things and get in her way. She would call and see her own parents. That would calm her down.

Maurice and Elizabeth Scarlet, known to all as Muttie and Lizzie, lived in the inner city of Dublin in a semicircle of old, stone, two-story houses. It was called St. Jarlath's Crescent, after the Irish saint, and once the dwellings had all been occupied by factory workers who were woken by a siren each morning to get them out of bed. There was a tiny garden in front of each house, only ten feet long, so it was a challenge to plant anything that would look halfway satisfactory.

This had been the house where Cathy's mother had been born and where Muttie had married in. Although it was only twenty minutes from Cathy and Neil's town house, it could have been a thousand miles, and maybe even a million miles from the rarefied world of Oaklands, where she was going tonight.

They were delighted to see Cathy turn up unexpectedly with her white van. What were they doing to see the New Year in? she wondered. They were going out to a pub nearby where a lot of Muttie's associates would gather. The men he called his associates were actually the people he met up in Sandy Keane's betting shop, but they all took their day's business very seriously and Cathy knew better than to make a joke about them.

"Will there be food?" she asked.

"At midnight they're going to give us chicken in a basket." Muttie Scarlet was pleased at the generosity of the pub.

Cathy looked at them.

Her father was small and round, his hair stood in wisps and his face was set in a permanent smile. He was fifty years of age and she had never known him to work. His back had been too bad, not so bad he couldn't get up to Sandy Keane's to put something on a sure thing in the three-fifteen, but far too bad for him to be able to get a job.

Lizzie Scarlet looked as she had always looked, small and strong and wiry. Her hair was set in a tight perm, which she had done four times a year in her cousin's hair salon.

"It's as regular as poor Lizzie's perm," Hannah Mitchell had once said about something. Cathy had been enraged-the fact that Hannah Mitchell, who had expensive weekly hair appointments at Hayward's store, while Lizzie Scarlet was down on her hands and knees cleaning Oaklands, should dare to mock her mother's hairstyle was almost more than she could bear. Still, there was no point in thinking about it now.

"Are you looking forward to the night, Mam?" she asked instead.

"Oh, yes, there's going to be a pub quiz with prizes too," Lizzie said. Cathy felt her heart go out to her undemanding parents who were so easily pleased.

Tonight at midnight at Oaklands Neil's mother would have a mouth like a thin hard line and would find fault with whatever Cathy produced.

"And have they all rung in from Chicago?" she asked.

Cathy was the youngest of five, the only one of Muttie and Lizzie's children still in Dublin. Her two brothers and two sisters had all emigrated.

Mike and Marian, the twins, left when they were eighteen, and the next two had followed them like steps of stairs. They were all married now except Marian, and the word was that she was going out with a fellow from a Polish background. Two grandchildren so far, who wrote strange inexplicable colored greeting cards to a land where they had never been, to grandparents they had never met. Lizzie knew every heartbeat of their lives, an ocean and half a continent away.

"Every one of them rang the whole way from Chicago," she said proudly. "We were blessed with our family."

Cathy knew they had all sent dollars to their mother as well because they sent the envelopes to her address rather than to their parents' home. No point in driving their father mad with temptation, letting him see American money when he knew surefire winners were waiting up in Sandy Keane's betting shop dying to gobble it up.

"Well, I'd like to be with you tonight," Cathy said truthfully. "But instead I'll be disappointing Hannah Mitchell with whatever food I produce."

"You took it on yourself," Muttie said.

"Please be polite to her, Cathy, I've found over all the years it's better to humor her."

"You did, Mam, you humored her all right," Cathy said grimly.

"But you won't start making a speech or anything, not tonight?"

"No, Mam. Relax. I agreed to do it, and if it kills me I will do it well and with a smile on my face."

"I wish Tom Feather was going with you, he'd put manners on you," Lizzie said.

"Neil will be there, Mam, he'll keep me in control." Cathy kissed them good-bye and practiced her smile as she drove to Oaklands.

Hannah Mitchell had contract cleaners these days, now that there was no more poor Lizzie to terrorize. Twice a week four women swept in, taking no nonsense from anyone, vacuuming, polishing, ironing and bringing their own equipment in a van. They charged time and a half for working on New Year's Eve. Hannah had protested at this.

"Up to you, Mrs. Mitchell," they had said cheerfully, in the knowledge that plenty of other people would be glad to have their house cleaned on a day like this. She gave in speedily. Things were definitely not like they used to be. Still, it had been worth it, the house looked very well, and at least she wouldn't have to lift a finger. That Cathy with all her grand notions was in fact able to serve a presentable meal. She would be coming shortly in that big white deplorable-looking van: even the women who came to clean the house twice a week traveled in a far more respectable vehicle. She would come into the kitchen huffing and puffing and throwing her weight about. Poor Lizzie's daugh- ter, behaving as if she owned the place. Which, alas, she probably would one day. But not yet, Hannah reminded herself with her mouth in a hard line.

Hannah Mitchell's husband Jock stopped on the way home from his office to have a drink. He felt he needed one before facing Hannah. She was always nervous and tense before a party but this time it would be magnified many times-she so hated having Neil's wife Cathy doing the catering for her. She had refused to accept that the couple were happy, well suited and unlikely to leave each other no matter how she schemed. Cathy would always be Poor Lizzie's daughter, and somehow a villain who had seduced their son in Greece. She had always believed that the girl had got pregnant deliberately to trap him, and been most surprised when this had proved not to be the case.

He drank his single-malt Scotch thoughtfully and wished that he didn't have to worry about this as well as everything else. Jock Mitchell had been severely disturbed by a conversation with his nephew Walter today. Walter, an idle layabout, the eldest son of Jock's brother Kenneth, had revealed that all was not well at The Beeches, his family home. In fact, things were very far from well. Walter said that his father had gone to England just before Christmas and had left no indication of his whereabouts. Walter's mother, not known to be a strong character, was reacting to this turn of events by a heavy reliance on vodka. The problem was their nine-year-old twins, Simon and Maud. What was happening to them? Walter had shrugged; he really didn't know. They were managing, he implied. Jock Mitchell sighed again.

As she arrived at Oaklands, Cathy heard her cell phone ring. She pulled in and answered.

"Hon, I'm not going to be there to help you unload," he apologized.

"Neil, it doesn't matter, I knew it would go on a bit."

"It's more complicated than we thought. Listen, ask my dad to help you in with all those crates, don't go dragging and pulling just to show my mother how wonderful you are."

"Oh she knows that," Cathy groaned.

"Walter should be there ..."

"If I were to wait for Walter to help me unload and set up, the party would be halfway through ... Stop fussing and go back to what you have to do."

Cathy told herself that there were only six hours or so of this year left, only six hours or so of being nice to Hannah. What was the very worst that could happen? The very worst was that the food was awful and no one would eat it, but that could not happen, because the food was terrific. The second worst thing was that there wasn't enough of it, but there was enough in this van to feed half of Dublin.

"There are no problems," Cathy said aloud as she looked down the tree-lined drive to the house where Neil had been born. A gentleman's residence, a hundred and fifty years old, square and satisfying somehow, with its four bedrooms above the large door and the bay windows on either side of it. Ivy and Virginia creeper covered the walls and in front lay a huge graveled circle where tonight twenty expensive cars would be parked. A house as different from St. Jarlath's Crescent as you could imagine.

Most of the office staff in Hayward's, Dublin's big department store, had gone. Not many worked late or indeed a full afternoon on New Year's Eve. They were mainly getting ready for whatever the night would bring.

But Shona Burke, who worked in the personnel department, had not joined the general rush toward home. Shona, often called a spokesperson for the store, or an information officer, was a very private person. They liked her and trusted her utterly, but since she never volunteered the smallest piece of information about herself, people had stopped asking.

They knew she lived alone in a very elegant apartment block. She had an attractive face, good posture and dressed well, but she was deliberately low-key. You would know her clothes were good, well cut and perfectly kept, but you would never remember exactly what she had been wearing.

Nobody minded that she didn't talk about herself. It wasn't a secretive thing, it was just the way she was. And anyway her job in Human Resources meant she should listen to others learn about the store, its ups and downs, and work out ways to solve the many problems that came onto her desk every day.

Shona often stayed late in her office up on the management floors of Hayward's-she had her own key code to get in and out. She had listened to the program on the radio and was wondering if she really and truly had a choice about how she would spend New Year's Eve. Long ago in a happier life there would have been a celebration, but not in the last few years. She had no idea what her sisters and brothers would do, and if they would go to the hospital. Shona would make the hospital visit out of duty, of course, but it was pointless, she wouldn't be recognized or acknowledged.

Then she would go to Ricky's party in his studio. Everyone liked Ricky. A pleasant, easygoing photographer, he would gather a lot of people and make a buzz for them all. There would be a fair crowd of poseurs and empty-headed types dying to see themselves in the gossip columns ... She was unlikely to meet the love of her life or even a temporary soul mate, but still Shona would dress up and go there simply because she did not see herself as the kind of person who would sit alone in her apartment in Glenstar.

The question nagged her, what would she really like to be doing tonight? It was so hard to answer because everything had changed so much. The good days were over, and it was impossible to imagine doing something that would make her really happy. So in the absence of that, Ricky's would do fine.

Marcella was painting her toenails. She had new evening sandals which she'd bought at a thrift shop. She showed them proudly to Tom. They had been barely worn; someone must have bought them and found they didn't suit. "They must have cost a fortune new," she said happily, examining them carefully.

"Are you happy?" Tom asked.

"Very," she said. "And you?"

"Oh, very, very," he laughed. Was that strictly true? He didn't want to go to this party at all. But just looking at her did make him happy. He couldn't really believe that such a beautiful girl, who could have had anyone she wanted, really found him enough for her. Tom had no idea that he was attractive, he thought he was big and clumsy. He honestly believed that all the admiring glances they got as a couple were directed at Marcella alone ...

"I heard a radio program saying people were never happy," she began.

"I know, I heard it too," Tom said.

"I was just thinking how lucky we were; poor Cathy and Neil can't do what they want tonight." Marcella stood in her thong and picked up a tiny red garment from the back of a chair.

"Yeah, Cathy will be there now, at her mother-in-law's house, laying up the tables. I hope she keeps her temper."

"Well she'll have to, it's work, it's professional. We all have to at work," said Marcella, who had bent over too many imperious hands already in her life, and wanted her day in the sunshine, walking down the ramp as a model.

"Neil will be there and that pup of a cousin he has, so she should be all right." Tom still sounded doubtful.

Marcella had put on the red outfit. It was actually a dress, short and tight, clinging to her and leaving nothing to the imagination.

"Marcella, are you really wearing that to the party?"

"Don't you like it?" Her face clouded over immediately.

"Well of course I like it. You look beautiful. It's just that maybe I'd like you to wear it here, for us, not for everyone else as well to see you."

"But Tom, it's a party dress," she cried, stricken.

He pulled himself together at once.

"Of course it is, and you'll be the success of the night."

"So what did you mean ...?"

"Mean? I meant nothing. I meant you were so gorgeous I didn't want to share you with people ... but take no notice. I didn't really mean that at all."

"I thought you'd be proud of me," she said.

"I am so proud you'll never know," he reassured her. And she was a beauty. He must have been insane to have had that sudden reaction.

Hannah Mitchell stood in her navy wool dress, her hair hard and lacquered from her New Year's Eve visit to Hayward's. She always dressed as if she were going out to a ladies' lunch. Cathy never remembered her wearing a pinafore or even an old skirt. But then, if you did no housework, what was the point of wearing things like that?

Hannah watched Cathy carry in all the boxes and crates, one by one, standing in her way and fussing and blocking her journey. She offered to carry nothing at all. Instead, she was hoping the crates wouldn't mark the wallpaper, and wondering where would Cathy put the van so that it would be out of the way when people came. Grimly, Cathy marched to and from the kitchen of Oaklands. She turned on the ovens, laid her tea towels on the backs of chairs, placed her bag of ice in the freezer and began to sort out the food. It would be useless asking Hannah Mitchell to leave her alone, to go upstairs and lie down. She would stay put, fuss and irritate until the guests arrived.

"Will Mr. Mitchell be home shortly?" Cathy thought she might ask him to help her unpack the glasses.

"I don't know, Cathy; really, it's not up to me to police Mr. Mitchell about what time he comes home." Cathy felt her neck redden in rage. How dare this woman be so offensive and patronizing. But she knew she stood alone in this resentment. Neil would shrug if she told him. Her mother would beg her not to annoy Mrs. Mitchell any further. Even her aunt Geraldine, who could normally be relied on for encouragement and support, would say what the hell. It just proved that Hannah Mitchell was an insecure nobody, not anyone to waste time worrying over. Cathy began to peel the foil from the dishes she had prepared.

"Is that fish? Not everyone eats it, you know." Hannah had her very concerned face on now.

"I know, Mrs. Mitchell, some people don't, which is why there's a choice, you see."

"But they mightn't know."

"I think they will. I'll tell them."

"But didn't you say it was a buffet?"

"Yes, but I'll be behind it serving, so I'll tell them."

"Tell them?" Hannah Mitchell was bewildered.

Cathy wondered was there a possibility that her mother-in-law was actually a half-wit.

"Like asking them would they like fish in a seafood sauce, or herbed chicken, or the vegetarian goulash," she said. Mrs. Mitchell tried but found it hard to find fault with this.

"Yes, well," she said eventually.

"So will I just get on with it now, do you think?" she asked.

"Cathy, my dear, may I ask who is stopping you?" Hannah said with her face hard and unforgiving at all this confidence in Poor Lizzie Scarlet's girl.

Neil looked at his watch. Every single person in this room had some kind of New Year's function to go to except the student that they had all gathered to protect. They would be finished soon, but nobody must be seen to hasten away. It would be terrible for the man whose future hung in the balance if he thought that the civil rights activists, the social workers and lawyers were more interested in their own night's fun and games than they were in his predicament. He was trying to reassure this young Nigerian that there would be justice and a welcome for him in Ireland. Neil would not let Jonathan spend the dawn of a new year on his own.

"When we're through here, you can come back to my parents' house," he said. He was already late, but it couldn't be helped.

The big sad eyes looked at him. "You don't have to, you know."

"I know I don't have to, and a barrel of laughs it won't be, but my wife is doing the catering so the food will be good. My parents' friends are ... well, how will I put it ... a bit dead."

"I'm okay, Neil, truly, you're doing so much for me and all this has delayed you from it already ..."

"We'll go through it once more," Neil said to the meeting, "then Jonathan and I will go and party." He saw them look at him in admiration. Neil Mitchell really went the distance. He felt a bit guilty at not being there to help Cathy as he had promised, but this was much more important-she'd understand. Cathy would be fine. His father and his cousin Walter would be there to help her by now ... Everything would be fine.

Hannah still hovered, which meant that Cathy had to talk, answer inane questions, pat down unnecessary worries and even bring up topics of conversation, lest she be considered moody.

"It's nearly seven-thirty, Walter will be here any minute," Cathy said desperately. She could have got things done far faster had she not been under the scrutiny of the most critical eyes in the Western hemisphere. Fingers could have been used more often than they were, things could have been flung into places rather than placed elegantly.

"Oh, Walter! Like all young people, I'm sure he'll be late." There was a sniff of disapproval and resignation.

"I don't think so, Mrs. Mitchell, not tonight. It's a professional engagement, he's being paid from seven-thirty until twelve-thirty. That's a five-hour booking. I'm certain he won't let us down."

Cathy wasn't at all sure of this; she had no evidence that Walter Mitchell was reliable. But at least it was going to be known what his terms of business were. And if he didn't turn up, then his own relations would have been made aware of his shortcomings. She heard someone outside.

"Ah, that must be Walter now," she said. "I knew he'd be on time."

It was in fact Jock Mitchell, who came into the kitchen rubbing his hands.

"This looks just great, Cathy. I say, Hannah, isn't this an amazing spread?"

"Yes," said his wife.

"Welcome home, Mr. Mitchell. I thought it was Walter. He's actually working for me tonight," Cathy said. "Did he leave the office at the same time as you, by any chance?"

"Ages earlier," her father-in-law said. "Boy keeps his own time. I'm getting a bit of flack from the partners over him, as it happens."

Hannah Mitchell hated family business being discussed in front of Cathy.

"Why don't you come upstairs and have a shower, dear? The guests will be here in half an hour," she said crisply. "Fine, fine. Don't you want any help, Cathy?"

"No, not at all. As I say, my wine waiter will be here shortly," Cathy said.

"And Neil?" he asked.

"At a consultation. He'll be along when he can."

She was alone in the kitchen. So far she was surviving, but it was only fifteen minutes before eight o'clock. There were hours and hours to go.

—Reprinted from the hardcover of Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Maeve Binchy. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 104 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 104 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 5, 2010

    Maeve Binchy's SCARLET FEATHER

    Maeve Binchy has been a fav of mine for quite some time; was just busy with life for a while and didn't really have the time for reading.

    After dating someone whom got me into reading again, Scarlet Feather was the first book I picked up when I truly started to read again.

    I like the fact Ms. Binchy's character show up time and again in her books though they aren't sequels to one another; she builds upon her characters. One may be a major character in this book while only briefly mentioned in another.

    The Summer after reading Scarlet Feather, I vowed to purchase and read ALL Maeve Binchy's books to date (am almost done). ~ giggling ~

    D ~

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    It has a lot of names to remember, but I didn't want to put it down.

    Great book. I would recommend the author to my friends.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A PAGE TURNER & HEART CALMER

    This was a feel good book that makes all your worries float away. Miss Binchy did me a good turn on this book. I could scarcely let the book down to rest, it was that good. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR ALL THAT ILLS YOU.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Title that invites the reader in.

    Maeve does it again. The plot of this tale has a little of everything, a great friendship between the two main characters, Scarlett and Feather, love/hate with some of the other players, and rooting for the underdog. Although this is a many page book to read, I couldn't put it down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2012

    Excellent book.

    This was a great read and I plan to reread it someday.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 15, 2011

    Addictive

    This book got me hooked on the town and its people right from the start

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 18, 2011

    another winner

    charming human story, you will laugh and cry. binchy has a knack for storytelling that will keep you reading and asking for more!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy

    Another winner by Maeve Binchy. This is a page turner. I can't put it down. Love Maeve Binchy's style of writing and am fast becoming a fan. Have also given this book as a gift and the recipient was equally enthralled and completely won over. Bookworm1FG

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2008

    Not her best

    I did enjoy this book, but Tara Road is one of my all time favorites, and this was not as good to me. I did pass it on to a friend and she did enjoy it, so I would recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted November 9, 2007

    Another Binchy Classic

    I loved this novel. It took my literally 34 hours to read it. My only complaint: What next for these two characters? I guess we get a glimpse in Quentin's, but still, I wish there was more to this ending.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2006

    Couldn't Even Finish It!

    And I'm a Maeve Binchy fan. I've read all of her stuff, but I truly believe that this marks the turning point in her writing career. I'm afraid to get anything new that she writes - I don't want to tarnish the warm regard I have for her earlier books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2006

    Hooked on Binchy!

    I have just started reading Binchy's books,starting with Quentins my mother in law bought me I borrowed a few more from her and just finished Scarlet Feather. I truly loved the book as well as the others, although I find myself wondering if I went about reading them in the wrong order?? In Quentins Tom and Cathy were all ready together and by the end of the book having a child then to read Scarlet Feather it was a given about the way it would end! That is entirely annoying when you dont know until after you read one!! How are you to know the direct order in which to read about the lives of the characters if there is not a note to state this all??

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2004

    Good food, good story

    I listened to this book. In fact I've listened to it many, many times, often while preparing for some festivity. I loved the detail of the catering business, and while some may have found the story line predictable, the characters are charming and the story telling lovely. The author has a wonderful way of painting the unique and quirky in her characters, even the ones we don't like. The narrator, too is engaging, beautiful dialects lending real life to the story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2003

    Not that enjoyable...

    It's a lighthearted book for those who prefer family-related stories. While it was interesting to read what happened in the lives of the various characters and see how they dealt with different and more often than not, tough situations, the ending was too predictable. No surprising twists or anything that hooked me to the book. Rather, I find the parts about how they went about their catering business more enjoyable than the lives of the characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2003

    too much food descriptions

    This was not as good as other books by Binchey. Her characters had depth but she went on in too much detail about food. It seemed that she was trying to fill pages. Ending was predictable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2002

    Binchy Does It Again!

    I love this book just as much as Tara Road, which is the first book by Mauve Binchy I read. Just like in her other books, she uses many point of views and she has extreme depth to each character. She tackles social issues that cross national boundaries, like social status. This is a book, like her others, that anyone can enjoy, and i did!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2014

    Lilywolf

    Lol Lilywolf approves! ;) ~ Lilywolf &hearts

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2014

    Comet

    Ok!!

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  • Posted May 30, 2014

    Good insight into characters.

    Anxious to get back to the story if I found it necessary to lay the book down. Binchy is a compelling author.

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

    Posted May 9, 2014

    A rarity -- one that will have you reading long into the night.

    A rarity -- one that will have you reading long into the night.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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