Whitethorn Woods

( 52 )

Overview

When a new highway threatens to bypass the town of Rossmore and cut through Whitethorn Woods, it will also destroy St. Ann’s well, where people have been coming for generations to share their dreams and speak their prayers. Some believe the well to be a place of true spiritual power, demanding protection; others think it’s a mere magnet for superstitions, easily sacrificed. Maeve Binchy creates a rich spectrum of men and women, all with passionate opinions, who are drawn into this timely conflict between the ...
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Overview

When a new highway threatens to bypass the town of Rossmore and cut through Whitethorn Woods, it will also destroy St. Ann’s well, where people have been coming for generations to share their dreams and speak their prayers. Some believe the well to be a place of true spiritual power, demanding protection; others think it’s a mere magnet for superstitions, easily sacrificed. Maeve Binchy creates a rich spectrum of men and women, all with passionate opinions, who are drawn into this timely conflict between the traditions of the past and the promises of the future.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The tiny hamlet of Rossmore seems to be a village that progress passed by. But that changes when a new highway project threatens to destroy St. Ann's Well, a religious shrine and the Irish town's only tourist attraction. Maeve Binchy's sage Whitehorn Woods captures the first-person stories of townspeople grappling with their own problems as well as this moment of civic transition. As always, Binchy's realistically etched portraits seem perfectly tailored for a wide reading audience; different readers will identify with different characters.
Publishers Weekly

A proposed highway near the Irish town of Rossmore will mean the destruction of St. Ann's Well, a shrine in Whitethorn Woods thought to deliver healing, husbands and other miracles. The shrine resides in the parish of Fr. Brian Flynn, curate of St. Augustine's. As a fracas erupts between shrine skeptics who want the highway and shrine believers who want the shrine preserved, Flynn, unsure of where he stands on the issue and questioning his place in an increasingly secular Ireland, goes to the shrine and prays that he might "hear the voices that have come to you and know who these people are." Binchy (Tara Road) goes on to deliver just that: a panoply of prosaic but richly drawn first-person characters, such as Neddy Nolan, a not-so-simple simpleton; 60-something Vera, who finds love on a singles trip meant for those much younger; and unassuming antiques magnate James, whose wife of 26 years is dying. Stories of greed, infidelity, mental illness, incest, the joys of being single, the struggles of modern career women, alcoholism, and the heartbreak of parenting span generations, simply and poignantly. Binchy takes it all in and orchestrates the whole masterfully. 400,000 announced first printing. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

In classic Binchy style (Nights of the Rain and Stars), many diverse characters tell their own, sometimes overlapping, stories in separate chapters, beginning and ending with Catholic priest Brian Flynn in the small Irish town of Rossmore. Teenaged to elderly, rich to poor, good to bad, all characters have some connection, however slight, to Rossmore, where controversy is brewing over a proposed highway bypass. The new road would run right through the woods surrounding the cave that houses St. Ann's Well, an unofficial shrine that attracts prayerful petitioners and is a thorn in Father Flynn's side. After the unprincipled obliviously reveal their own moral failings in their own words, readers will want to call their mothers or spend time with elderly relatives to be more like the decent, unassuming, author-approved characters, or at least more like those who manage a change of heart before the end. An enjoyable peek into other people's thoughts, this new novel by a beloved author will make a good book group choice. An essential purchase for any women's fiction collection; for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ11/1/06.]
—Laurie A. Cavanaugh Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
Binchy (Quentins, 2002, etc.) inserts questions of faith into her usual romantic braid of multiple storylines, in this case concerning the troubled residents, former residents and descendents of residents of an Irish town where an obscure shrine faces demolition. Father Brian Flynn, his commitment to the priesthood already shaky, is furious at the superstitious faith people place in the shrine at St. Ann's Well outside Rossmore, but after visiting the shrine himself, he vows to hear and help his parishioners himself. Then a proposed new highway threatens to run right through the site of the well. The efforts of Father Flynn and his congregants, particularly the saintly Neddy Nolan, whose practical wisdom has been mislabeled as simpleminded, to resolve the highway dilemma form the plot that snakes around a slew of subplots. These are often fully realized stories that stand on their own. Some of the characters actually visit the well, like the two pairs of lovers who together find a perfect living arrangement thanks to the shrine, or like Father Flynn's sister Judy, who returns home to pray for a husband. Others, like the insane Becca, who arranges for the murder of her romantic rival, and her mother, who sells Becca's story to the tabloids, live in Rossmore but pointedly do not visit the shrine. The majority share only a geographical connection to Rossmore, as in the case of Emer and Ken. Although their story smacks of heavenly intervention, the intermediary who kindles Emer and Ken's romance is a gallant cab driver, not St. Ann. In Binchy's world, well-meaning characters find happiness while an ungrateful son or an adulterous husband can expect comeuppance. Her sentimental morality may bepredictable, but Binchy's lilting Irish zest is undeniably addictive. First printing of 400,000; Book-of-the-Month Club main selection
From the Publisher
“A tour de force. . . . Binchy is in top form.” –The Seattle Times

“Binchy’s best read in a decade.” —The Globe and Mail

“Love, longing, and rich scenes of daily life. . . . What could be sweeter than a trip to [an] Irish village packed with robust native characters.”  –The Christian Science Monitor
 
“A remarkably gifted writer [and] a wonderful student of human nature.” –The New York Times Book Review
 
“Binchy makes you laugh, cry and care.”  –San Francisco Chronicle

“Binchy is a grand storyteller in the finest Irish tradition. . . . She writes from the very heart.”  –The Plain Dealer
 
“An engaging read.”  –Daily News
 
“Binchy can channel Irish voices with the best of them, and each of those voices has its own twisting story to tell.”  –The Columbus Dispatch

“Reading one of Maeve Binchy’s novels is like coming home.” –The Washington Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307278418
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/29/2008
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 4.27 (w) x 6.81 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Meet the Author

Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy is the author of Nights of Rain and Stars, Scarlet Feather, Quentins, Light a Penny Candle, Circle of Friends, and Tara Road (An Oprah Book Club Selection) and many other bestselling books.  Maeve has now retired as a journalist and columnist for the Irish Times and lives in Dalkey, Ireland and London with her husband, writer Gordon Snell.  She is a welcome visitor to the U.S. and an honorary citizen of Chicago where she was celebrated by having her own float in their St. Patrick's Day Parade.

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

Father Brian Flynn, the curate at St. Augustine’s, Rossmore, hated the Feast Day of St. Ann with a passion that was unusual for a Catholic priest. But then, as far as he knew he was the only priest in the world who had a thriving St. Ann’s well in his parish, a holy shrine of dubious origin. A place where parishioners gathered to ask the mother of the Virgin Mary to intercede for them in a variety of issues, mainly matters intimate and personal. Areas where a clodhopping priest wouldn’t be able to tread. Like finding them a fiancé, or a husband, and then blessing that union with a child.

Rome was, as usual, unhelpfully silent about the well.

Rome was probably hedging its bets, Father Flynn thought grimly, over there they must be pleased that there was any pious practice left in an increasingly secular Ireland and not wishing to discourage it. Yet had not Rome been swift to say that pagan rituals and superstitions had no place in the Body of Faith? It was a puzzlement, as Jimmy, that nice young doctor from Doon village, a few miles out, used to say. He said it was exactly the same in medicine: you never got a ruling when you wanted one, only when you didn’t need one at all.

There used to be a ceremony on July 26 every year, where people came from far and near to pray and to dress the well with garlands and flowers. Father Flynn was invariably asked to say a few words, and every year he agonized over it. He could not say to these people that it was very near to idolatry to have hundreds of people battling their way toward a chipped statue in the back of a cave beside an old well in the middle of the Whitethorn Woods.

From what he had read and studied, St. Ann and her husband, St. Joachim, were shadowy figures, quite possibly confused in stories with Hannah in the Old Testament, who was thought to be forever childless but eventually bore Samuel. Whatever else St. Ann may have done in her lifetime two thousand years ago, she certainly had not visited Rossmore in Ireland, found a place in the woods and established a holy well that had never run dry.

That much was fairly definite.

But try telling it to some of the people in Rossmore and you were in trouble. So he stood there every year, mumbling a decade of the rosary, which couldn’t offend anyone, and preaching a little homily about goodwill and tolerance and kindness to neighbors, which fell on mainly deaf ears.

Father Flynn often felt he had quite enough worries of his own without having to add St. Ann and her credibility to the list. His mother’s health had been an increasing worry to them all, and the day was rapidly approaching when she could no longer live alone. His sister, Judy, had written to say that although Brian might have chosen the single, celibate life, she certainly had not. Everyone at work was either married or gay. Dating services had proved to be full of psychopaths, evening classes were where you met depressive losers; she was going to come to the well near Rossmore and ask St. Ann to get on her case.

His brother, Eddie, had left his wife, Kitty, and their four children to find himself. Brian had gone to look for Eddie—who now found himself nicely installed with Naomi, a girl twenty years younger than the abandoned wife—and had got little thanks for his concern.

“Just because you’re not any kind of a normal man at all, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to take a vow of celibacy,” Eddie had said, laughing into his face.

Brian Flynn felt a great weariness. He thought that he was in fact a normal man. Of course he had desired women, but he had made a bargain. The rules, at the moment, said if he were to be a priest then there must be no marriage, no children, no good, normal family life.

Father Flynn always told himself that this was a rule that would one day change. Not even the Vatican could stand by and watch so many people leave the ministry over a rule that was made by man and not by God. When Jesus was alive all the Apostles were married men, the goalposts were moved much later.

And then all the scandals in the Church were surely making the slow-moving conservative cardinals realize that in the twenty-first century some adaptations must be made.

People did not automatically respect the Church and churchmen anymore.

Far from it.

There were hardly any vocations to the priesthood nowadays. Brian Flynn and James O’Connor had been the only two ordinations in the diocese eight years back. And James O’Connor had left the Church because he had been outraged by the way an older, abusive priest had been protected and allowed to escape either treatment or punishment by a cover-up.

Brian Flynn was hanging in there, but only just.

His mother had forgotten who he was, his brother despised him and now his sister was making a trip from London to visit this cracked pagan well and wondering, would it work better if she came on the saint’s Feast Day?

Father Flynn’s parish priest was a gentle, elderly man, Canon Cassidy, who always praised the young curate for his hard work.

“I’ll stay on here as long as I can, Brian, then you’ll be considered old enough and they’ll give you the parish,” Canon Cassidy often said. He meant very well and was anxious to spare Father Flynn from the indignity of having some arrogant and difficult parish priest brought in over the curate’s head. But at times Brian Flynn wondered if it would be better to let nature take its course, to hasten Canon Cassidy to a home for the elderly religious, to get someone, almost anyone, to help with the parish duties.

Admittedly, attendance at church had died off a great deal since he was a young man. But people still had to be baptized, given first Communion, have their confessions heard; they needed to be married and buried.

And sometimes, like in the summer, when a Polish priest came along to help him, Brian Flynn used to think he might manage better alone. The Polish priest last year spent weeks making garlands for St. Ann and her well.

Not long ago he had been at the junior school at St. Ita’s and asked if any of the pupils wanted to become nuns when they grew up. Not an unreasonable question to ask little girls in a Catholic school. They were mystified. No one seemed to know what he meant.

Then one of them got it. “You mean like the movie Sister Act?”

Father Flynn felt that the world was definitely tilting.

Sometimes, when he woke in the morning, the day stretched ahead of him, confused and bewildering. Still he had to get on with things, so he would have his shower and try to pat down his red hair, which always stood in spikes around his head. Then he would make a cup of milky tea and a slice of toast and honey for Canon Cassidy.

The old man always thanked him so gratefully that Father Flynn felt well rewarded. He would open the curtains, plump up the pillows and make some cheerful comment about how the world looked outside. Then he would go to the church and say a daily Mass for an ever-decreasing number of the faithful. He would go to his mother’s house, heart in his mouth about how he would find her.

Invariably she would be sitting at her kitchen table looking lost and without purpose. He would explain, as he always did, that he was her son, a priest in the parish; and he would make her a breakfast of porridge and a boiled egg. Then he would walk down Castle Street with a heavy heart to Skunk Slattery’s newsagents where he would buy two newspapers: one for the canon and one for himself. This usually involved some kind of intellectual argument with Skunk about free will or predestination or how a loving God could allow a tsunami, or a famine. By the time he got back to the priests’ house, Josef, the Latvian caregiver, had arrived and got Canon Cassidy up, washed and dressed him and made his bed. The canon would be sitting waiting for his newspaper. Later, Josef would take the old man for a gentle walk to St. Augustine’s Church, where he would say his prayers with closed eyes.

Canon Cassidy liked soup for his lunch and sometimes Josef took him to a café but mainly he took the frail little figure back to his own house, where his wife, Anna, would produce a bowl of something homemade; and in return the canon would teach her more words and phrases in English.

He was endlessly interested in Josef and Anna’s homeland, asking to see pictures of Riga and saying it was a beautiful city. Josef had three other jobs: he cleaned Skunk Slattery’s shop, he took the towels from Fabian’s hairdressers to the Fresh as a Daisy Launderette and washed them there and three times a week he took a bus out to the Nolans’ place and helped Neddy Nolan look after his father.

Anna had many jobs too: she cleaned the brass on the doors of the bank, and on some of the office buildings that had big important-looking notices outside; she worked in the hotel kitchens at breakfast time doing the washing up; she opened the flowers that came from the market to the florists and put them in big buckets of water. Josef and Anna were astounded by the wealth and opportunities they’d found in Ireland. A couple could save a fortune here.

They had a five-year plan, they told Canon Cassidy. They were saving to buy a little shop outside Riga.

“Maybe you’ll come to see us there?” Josef said.

“I’ll look down on you and bless your work,” the canon said in a matter-of-fact tone, anticipating the best in the next world.

Sometimes Father Flynn envied him.

The old man still lived in a world of certainties, a place where a priest was important and respected, a world where there was an answer for every question asked. In Canon Cassidy’s time there had been a hundred jobs a day for a priest to do. And not enough hours to do them. The priest was wanted, expected and needed at all kinds of happenings in the lives of the parishioners. Nowadays you waited to be asked. Canon Cassidy would have gone uninvited and unannounced to every home in the parish. Father Flynn had learned to be more reticent. In modern Ireland, even a town like Rossmore, there were many who would not welcome the appearance of a Roman collar on the doorstep.

So as Brian Flynn set out down Castle Street, he had half a dozen things planned to do. He had to meet a Polish family and arrange the baptism of their twins the following Saturday. They asked him, could the ceremony take place at the well? Father Flynn tried to control his annoyance. No, it would take place at the baptismal font in the church of St. Augustine.

Then he went to the jail to visit a prisoner who had asked for him. Aidan Ryan was a violent man whose wife had finally broken the silence of years and admitted that he had beaten her. He showed no sorrow or remorse, he wanted to tell a rambling tale about it all being her fault, as many years ago she had sold their baby to a passerby.

Father Flynn brought the Blessed Sacrament to an old-people’s home outside Rossmore with the ridiculous name of Ferns and Heathers. The owner said it was nicer in a multicultural Ireland not to have everything called by a saint’s name. They seemed pleased to see him and showed him their various gardening projects. Once upon a time all these homes were run by the Church, but this woman Poppy seemed to be making a very good go of it.

Father Flynn had an old battered car to take him on his travels. He rarely used it within the town of Rossmore itself since the traffic was very bad and parking almost impossible. There were rumors that a great bypass would be built, a wide road taking the heavy trucks. Already people were in two minds about it. Some were saying that it would take the life out of the place, others claimed that it would return to Rossmore some of its old character.

Father Flynn’s next visit was to the Nolans’ house.

The Nolans were a family that he liked very much. The old man, Marty, was a lively character full of stories about the past; he talked about his late wife as if she was still here, and often told Father Flynn about the miracle cure she had once got from St. Ann’s Well that gave her twenty-four years more of a good life. His son was a very decent man, he and the daughter-in-law, Clare, always seemed pleased to see him. Father Flynn had assisted the canon at their marriage some years back.

Clare was a teacher at St. Ita’s and she told the priest that the school was full of gossip about the new road that was coming to Rossmore. In fact she was asking her class to do a project on it. The extraordinary thing was that from what you heard or could work out, the road would be going right through here, through their own property.

“Wouldn’t you get great compensation if it did go through your land?” Father Flynn said admiringly. It was pleasing to see good people being rewarded in this life.

“Oh, but, Father, we’d never let it go through our land,” Marty Nolan said. “Not in a million years.”

Father Flynn was surprised. Usually small farmers prayed for a windfall like this. A small fortune earned by accident.

“You see, if it came through here it would mean they’d have to tear up Whitethorn Woods,” Neddy Nolan explained.

“And that would mean getting rid of St. Ann’s Well,” Clare added. She didn’t have to say that this was the well that had given her late mother-in-law another quarter-century of life. That fact hung there unspoken.

Father Flynn got back into his little car with a heavy heart. This insane well was going to become yet again a divisive factor in the town. There would be still more talk about it, more analyzing its worth, claims and counterclaims. With a deep sigh he wished that the bulldozers had come in overnight and taken the well away. It would have solved a lot of problems.

He went to call on his sister-in-law, Kitty. He tried to visit at least once a week, just to show her that she hadn’t been abandoned by the whole family. Only Eddie had left her.

Kitty was not in good form.

“I suppose you’ll want something to eat,” she said ungraciously. Brian Flynn looked around the untidy kitchen with its unwashed breakfast dishes, the children’s clothes on chairs and a great deal of clutter. Not a home to welcome anyone.

“No, I’m great as I am,” he said, searching for a chair to sit on.

“You’re better not to eat, I suppose, they feed you like a prize pig in all these houses you visit—it’s no wonder you’re putting on a bit of weight.”

Brian Flynn wondered, had Kitty always been as sour as this? He couldn’t recall. Perhaps it was just the disappearance of Eddie with the sexy young Naomi that had changed her.

“I was in with my mother,” he said tentatively.

“Had she a word to throw to you?”

“Not many, I’m afraid, and none of them making much sense.” He sounded weary.

But he got no sympathy from Kitty. “Well, you can’t expect me to weep salt tears over her, Brian. When she did have her wits, I was never good enough for her marvelous son Eddie, so let her sit and work that one out for herself. That’s my view.” Kitty’s face was hard. She wore a stained cardigan and her hair was matted.

For a fleeting moment, Father Flynn felt a little sympathy for his brother. If you had the choice of all the women around, which apparently Eddie had, Naomi would have been an easier and more entertaining option. But then he reminded himself of duty and children and vows, and banished the thought.

“The mother can’t manage much longer on her own, Kitty, I’m thinking of selling up her house and moving her into a home.”

“Well, I never expected anything out of that house anyway, so go ahead and do it as far as I’m concerned.”

“I’ll talk to Eddie and Judy about it, see what they think,” he said.

“Judy? Oh, does her ladyship ever answer the phone over there in London?”

“She’s coming over here to Rossmore in a couple of weeks’ time,” Father Flynn said.

“She needn’t think she’s staying here.” Kitty looked around her possessively. “This is my house, it’s all I have, I’m not letting Eddie’s family have squatters’ rights in it.”

“No, I don’t think for a moment that she’d want to . . . to . . . um . . . put you out.” He hoped his voice didn’t suggest that Judy would never stay in a place like this.

“So where will she stay, then? She can’t stay with you and the canon.”

“No, one of the hotels, I imagine.”

“Well, Lady Judy will be able to pay for that, unlike the rest of us,” Kitty sniffed.

“I was thinking about Ferns and Heathers for our mother. I was there today, the people all seem very happy.”

“That’s a Protestant home, Brian, the priest can’t send his own mother to a Protestant place. What would people say?”

“It’s not a Protestant home, Kitty.” Father Flynn was mild. “It’s for people of all religions or no religions.”

“Same thing,” Kitty snapped.

“Not at all, as it happens. I was there yesterday, bringing them Holy Communion. They are opening a wing for Alzheimer’s patients next week. I thought maybe if any of you would like to go and look at it . . .” He sounded as weary as he felt.

Kitty softened.

“You’re not a bad person, Brian, not in yourself. It’s a hard old life what with no one having any respect for priests anymore or anything.” She meant it as a kind of sympathy, he knew this.

“Some people do, just a little bit of respect,” he said with a watery smile, getting up to leave.

“Why do you stay in it?” she asked as she came to the door.

“Because I joined up, signed on, whatever, and very occasionally I do something to help.” He looked rueful.

“I’m always glad to see you anyway,” said the charmless Kitty Flynn, with the heavy implication that she was probably the only one in Rossmore who might be remotely glad to see him anywhere near her.

He had told Lilly Ryan that he would call and tell her how her husband, Aidan, was getting on in prison. She still loved him and often regretted that she had testified against him. But it had seemed the only thing to do, the blows had become so violent that she ended up in the hospital and she had three children.

He didn’t feel in the mood to talk to her. But since when was all this about feeling in the right mood? He drove to her little street.

The youngest boy, Donal, was in his last year at the Brothers School. He would not be at home.

“Aren’t you a very reliable man, Father?”

Lilly was delighted to see him. Even though he had no good news for her it was at least consoling to be considered reliable. Her kitchen was so different from the one he had just left. There were flowers on the windowsill, gleaming copper pans and pots; there was a desk in the corner where she earned a small living by making up crosswords: everything was in order.

She had a plate of shortbread on the table.

“I’d better not,” he said regretfully. “I heard in the last place that I was as fat as a pig.”

“I bet you did not.” She took no notice of him. “Anyway can’t you walk it all off you in the woods above? Tell me, how was he today?”

And with all the diplomacy that he could muster, Father Flynn tried to construct something from his meeting with Aidan Ryan that morning into a conversation that would bring even a flicker of consolation to the wife he had once beaten and now refused to see. A wife that he seriously believed had sold their eldest baby to a passerby.

Father Flynn had looked up newspaper accounts from over twenty years ago of the time that the Ryan baby girl had been taken from a pram outside a shop in town.

She had never been found. Alive or dead.

Father Flynn managed to keep the conversation optimistic by delivering a string of clichés: the Lord is good, one never knew what was going to happen, the importance of taking one day at a time.

“Do you believe in St. Ann?” Lilly asked him, suddenly breaking the mood.

“Well, yes, I mean, of course I believe that she existed and all that . . .” he began, blustering and wondering where this was leading.

“But do you think that she is there listening at the well?” Lilly persisted.

“Everything is relative, Lilly, I mean, the well is a place of great piety over centuries and that in itself carries a certain charge. And of course St. Ann is in heaven and like all the saints interceding for us . . .”

“I know, Father, I don’t believe in the well either,” Lilly interrupted. “But I was up there last week and, honestly, it’s astonishing. In this day and age all the people coming there, it would amaze you.”

Father Flynn assembled a look of pleased amazement on his face. Not very successfully.

“I know, Father, I felt the same as you do, once. I go up there every year, you know, around Teresa’s birthday. That was my little girl, who disappeared years before you came to the parish here. Usually it’s just meaningless, but somehow last week I looked at it differently. It was as if St. Ann really was listening to me. I told her all the trouble that had happened as a result of it all, and how poor Aidan had never been right since it happened. But mainly I asked her to tell me that Teresa was all right wherever she is. I could sort of bear it if I thought she was happy somewhere.”

Father Flynn looked mutely at the woman, unable to summon any helpful reaction.

“But anyway, Father, I know people are always seeing moving statues and holy pictures that speak, and all that kind of nonsense, but there was something, Father, there really was something.”

He was still without words but nodded so that she would continue.

“There were about twenty people there, all sort of telling their own story. A woman saying so that anyone could hear her, ‘Oh, St. Ann, will you make him not grow any colder to me, let him not turn away from me any more . . .’ Anyone could have heard her and known her business. But none of us were really listening. We were all thinking about ourselves. And suddenly I got this feeling that Teresa was fine, that she had a big twenty-first birthday party a couple of years ago and that she was well and happy. It was as if St. Ann was telling me not to worry anymore. Well, I know it’s ridiculous, Father, but it did me a lot of good, and where’s the harm in that?

“I just wish that poor Aidan could have been there when she said it or thought it or transferred it to my mind or whatever she did. It would have given him such peace.”

Father Flynn escaped with a lot of protestations about the Lord moving in mysterious ways and even threw in the bit of Shakespeare about there being more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy. Then he left the little house and drove to the edge of Whitethorn Woods.

As he walked through the woods he was greeted by people walking their dogs, joggers in tracksuits getting some of the exercise he obviously needed himself, according to his sister-in-law. Women wheeled prams and he stopped to admire the babies. The canon used to say that a playful greeting of “Who have we here?” was a great get-out when you came across a child in a pram. It covered both sexes and a failing memory for names. The others would fill you in and then you could take it up from there—grand little fellow, or isn’t she a fine little girl?

He met Cathal Chambers, a local bank manager, who said he had come up to the woods to clear his head.

He had been flooded by people wanting to borrow money to buy land around here so that they could sell it at a huge profit once the new road was given the okay. It was very hard to know what to do. Head Office said he was the man on the ground so he should have a feel for what was going to happen. But how could you have a feel for something like that?

He said that Myles Barry, the solicitor, was exactly in the same predicament. Three different people had come in to him asking him to make an offer to the Nolans for that farm they had. It was pure greed, speculation and greed, that’s what it was.

Father Flynn said it was refreshing to meet a banker who thought in such terms, but Cathal said that was not at all the way they looked at things at the Head Office.

Skunk Slattery was walking his two greyhounds and came up to sneer at Father Flynn.

“There you go, Father, coming up here to the pagan well to hope that the gods of olden times will do what today’s Church can’t do,” he taunted the priest, while his two bony greyhounds quivered with what seemed like annoyance as well.

“That’s me, Skunk, always one for the easy life,” Father Flynn said through gritted teeth. He nailed the smile to his face for the few minutes it took before Skunk ran out of rage toward him and moved the trembling dogs onward.

Father Flynn also went onward, his face grim as he headed for the first time ever on his own to visit St. Ann’s Well. He had been here as part of parish activities, always resentful and confused but never voicing his opinion.

A few wooden signs carved by pious local people over the years pointed to the well, which was in a big, rocky, cavernous grotto. The place was damp and cold; a little stream ran down the hill behind and around the well and it was muddy and splashed where many of the faithful had reached in to take scoops of the water with an old iron ladle.

It was a weekday morning and he thought that there would not be many people there.

The whitethorn bushes outside the grotto were festooned, yes, that was the only word Father Flynn thought suitable, liter- ally festooned with bits of cloth and notes and ribbons. There were medals and holy cures, some of them encased in plastic or cellophane.

These were petitions to the saint, requests for a wish to be granted; sometimes they were thanks for a favor received.

“He’s off the drink for three months, St. Ann, I thank you and beg you to continue to give him strength . . .”

or

“My daughter’s husband is thinking of getting the marriage annulled unless she gets pregnant soon . . .”

or

“I’m afraid to go to the doctor but I am coughing up blood, please, St. Ann, ask Our Lord that I be all right. That it’s only some kind of an infection that will pass . . .”

Father Flynn stood and read them all, his face getting redder.

This was the twenty-first century in a country that was fast becoming secular. Where did all this superstition come from? Was it only old people who came here? A throwback to a simpler time? But many of the people he had met even this very morning were young, and they felt the well had powers. His own sister was coming back from England to pray here for a husband, the young Polish couple wanted their babies baptized here. Lilly Ryan, who thought she heard the statue tell her that her long-disappeared daughter was all right, was only in her early forties.

It was beyond understanding.

He went inside the grotto, where people had left crutches and walking sticks and even pairs of spectacles as a symbol of hope that they would be cured and able to manage without them. There were children’s bootees and little socks—meaning who knew what? The desire for a child? A wish to cure a sick baby?

And in the shadows, this huge statue of St. Ann.

It had been painted and refurbished over the years, making the apple cheeks even pinker, the brown cloak richer, the wisp of hair under the cream-colored veil even blonder.

If St. Ann existed she would have been a small dark woman, from the land of Palestine and Israel. She would not have looked like an Irish advertisement for some kind of cheese spread.

And yet kneeling there in front of the well were perfectly normal people. They got more here than they ever did in St. Augustine’s Church in Rossmore.

It was a sobering and depressing thought.

The statue looked down glassily—which was a bit of a relief to Father Flynn. If he had begun to imagine that the statue was addressing him personally, he would really have given up.

But oddly, even though the saint was not speaking to him, Father Flynn felt an urge to speak to her. He looked at the young troubled face of Myles Barry’s daughter, a girl who had failed to get into law school to her father’s great grief. What could she be praying for with her eyes closed and her face so concentrated?

He saw Jane, the very elegant sister of Poppy, who ran the old-people’s home. Jane, who, even to Father Flynn’s untutored eye, seemed to be wearing high-fashion designer clothes, was mouthing something at the statue. A young man who ran an organic vegetable stall in the marketplace was there too, his lips moving silently.

As he gave a last look at what he considered an entirely inappropriate representation of the mother of the mother of Jesus, he wished he could ask the saint through the statue whether any of these prayers were ever heard and ever answered. And what did the saint do if two people were seeking conflicting favors?

But this way fantasy lay, and madness. And he was not getting involved.

He stroked the walls of the cave as he left the grotto, damp walls with messages carved into them. He made his way past the whitethorn bushes crowding the entrance, bushes that no one had cut back to give easier access because they felt the hopes and prayers and petitions of so many people were attached to them.

Even on the old wooden gates there was a note pinned:

“St. Ann, hear my voice.”

All around him Father Flynn could almost hear the voices. Calling and begging and beseeching down the years. He heard himself make up a little prayer.

“Please let me hear the voices that have come to you and know who these people are. If I am to do any good at all here, let me know what they are saying and what they want us to hear and do for them . . .”

Read More Show Less

Introduction

“A tour de force. . . . Binchy is in top form.”
The Seattle Times

With a New Story Exclusive to this Edition

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enrich your discussion of Maeve Binchy’s Whitethorn Woods. In this enchanting new book, Binchy portrays a diverse group of characters and their ties, lifelong or fleeting, to a small Irish town and its famous shrine, St. Ann’s Well.

Read More Show Less

Foreword

1. Discuss the observations Father Flynn makes about religion in the first chapter. Although his concerns and frustrations are specific to the Catholic Church, what do they reveal about the struggles clergy of every religion face today? Beyond preserving religious traditions and rites (“people still had to be baptized, given first Communion, have their confessions heard; they needed to be married and buried” [p. 6]), do religious
institutions have a meaningful role to play in the twenty-first century? If so, are they fulfilling this role?

2. Neddy Nolan begins his narrative by saying, “nobody expects too much from Soft Neddy so I more or less get away with my way of looking at things” [p. 24]. How do the various stories he tells about himself—from the incident with Nora to his life in London and his marriage to Clare—reflect the contrast between the perceptions of others and Neddy’s own point of view? What advantages does his apparent lack of sophistication give him?

3. In describing her childhood, Clare says, “I was both proud and ashamed when I was a schoolgirl. Proud that I was able to stay out of my uncle’s messy clutches. And ashamed because I came from a family that wouldn’t look after me but left me to fight my own battles against things I didn’t understand” [p. 40]. Do you think this reaction is common among abused children? How does the combination of fear and pride shape Clare, both as a child and as a young woman out on her own?

4. The stories of Vera and Sharon provide a lighthearted look at love and romance through the perspectives of two generations. How does Binchy bring tolife the idiosyncrasies of love at different stages in our lives?
In what ways do the stories speak to the timeless needs, desires, and hopes that underlie the search
for love?

5. Friendship takes center stage in “Malka” and “Rivka.” Why has Binchy chosen Israel, a setting far from home for both protagonists, as the meeting place for the women? Would these two women have become friends in either Ireland or America, their respective homelands? What role do less-than-perfect marriages play in their deep attachment to and dependence on each other? Do you agree with Rivka’s opinion that “friendship was better than love in a way, it was more generous” [p. 98]?

6. What was your initial reaction to “Becca”? Were you surprised to come upon this chilling story? Does the portrait of Gabrielle change your understanding of Becca’s horrific act [pp. 125–138]? What do the two stories represent in terms of the themes of the novel and the fictional world Binchy is creating?

7. In “Barbara” and “Someone from Dad’s Office,” Binchy explores the transformations that occur when people see one another in unfamiliar contexts. What factors shape the assumptions Barbara and her coworkers make about one another in the office? What parallels exist between the way the narrator views his father in “Someone from Dad’s Office”and the way adults form their opinions in “Barbara”? Do you think the new relationships among the characters will last, or will the old patterns inevitably reemerge?

8. “Dr. Dermot” and “Chester’s Plan” focus on the transition from the past to the present (and the future), and its impact on individuals and communities. What specific details and observations in the stories highlight common reactions to change and progress? Discuss, for example, how the conflict between Dr. Dermot and Dr. White represents more than the clash of two personalities and two different styles of practicing medicine. In what ways does Chester Kovac epitomize the image that people in other countries have of Americans and how this image affects his interactions with the local population?

9. What do Helen’s and James’s accounts reveal about the nature of marriage and the ties that bind people together? How does Binchy treat Helen’s act of desperation and its repercussions? Does she make moral judgments, or does she leave this up to the reader?

10. June and Lucky are the youngest narrators in Whitethorn Woods. What do their perspectives reflect about the significance of roots and of family in contemporary times? What insights do they offer into the complicated terrain of mother-daughter relationships?

11. Binchy paints a wry portrait of courtship in “Emer” and “Hugo.” What distinguishes Binchy’s take on modern romance from the stories told in popular movies, on television, and in “chick-lit” novels? In what ways are the characters, and the way the plot unfolds, reminiscent of traditional fairy tales?

12. What expectations and assumptions—emotional, psychological, and societal—lie at the heart of the relationship between Pearl and her adult children? Is Pearl’s willingness to make excuses for her children naïve, or does it reflect a universal maternal instinct? What does it say about John and Amy that they ignore or are ashamed of their roots?  And what does it reveal about Linda’s character that she breaks up with John?  What do the characters’ self-deceptions and pretenses demonstrate about family dynamics in general?

13. Poppy’s tale and her sister’s complementary account deal with the same, straightforward “facts,” but make very different impressions on the reader. At the conclusion of her story, Jane asks, “Was it at all possible that Poppy could have been right? Poppy, whose skin had never been cherished, whose hair had never been styled and whose wardrobe was a joke, a bad joke. Surely Poppy couldn’t have discovered the secret of life? That would be too unfair for words” [p. 332]. To what extent does Poppy represent humanity’s most admirable qualities and values? In what ways does she fall short of your definition of the “ideal” person?

14. In “Pandora” and “Bruiser’s Business” Binchy uses the everyday interactions at a beauty parlor to shed light on the secrets, misunderstandings, and false assumptions that too often rule people’s behavior. How does Binchy both use and defy conventional stereotypes (about class, marriage, and sexual preference, for example) to make her characters believable?

15. Why are the stories of Melanie and Caroline coupled under the heading “The Intelligence Test”? What characteristics link the protagonists and their attempts to establish independent, meaningful lives? Were you satisfied with the way the conflicts were resolved?

16. Several of the stories in Whitethorn Woods deal with marriage and the way husbands and wives communicate with each other; others explore the relationships between parents and children as well as among siblings. What do the intricacies of family life tell us about human nature in general? In what ways does the novel deepen your understanding of what constitutes a good marriage and family?

17. The cast of characters includes simple country people, educated and sophisticated people, believers and skeptics. Which characters deal most successfully with the changes in their personal lives and the changes coming to Rossmore? In what ways do their stories redefine and add a new, modern meaning to the concept of faith?

Excerpt from Three Days for the Wives
A New Story Exclusive to the Anchor Edition of Whitethorn Woods

Peggy Power was thirty-eight years old, with short curly hair.
She looked ten years younger than she was and was as fit as a fiddle. She had never married, but she had what she always called a grand relationship with Matty, who worked for a company that made garden furniture. Matty was divorced. He and his first wife, Fern, had split up a long time back. Fern lived in England with their daughter, Sally. Fern always created the maximum difficulty about Matty seeing his daughter. This time was never right, that time was never right, but Matty was goodnatured and adaptable. He met his daughter once a year in Ireland and once in London. He wrote to the girl every single week.
No broken family was ideal, but Peggy always said that their life went along just fine. Nobody rocked the boat, they just got along with things. And in Peggy’s case, part of getting on with things was that she ran very successful golf holidays in Ireland. A travel agent in New York sent her the clients, and Peggy was there smiling in the early dawn at Shannon airport ready to greet them. . . .
The men were easy. It was the wives who were sometimes a bit of a problem. . . .
The real problem was they didn’t bond like their husbands did. The men were so easy to please, they would sit over their steak and fries every evening and replay every one of the holes they had played. The women picked and puzzled and were indecisive, wondering was this too fattening or did that dish contain nuts. Peggy knew that her feminist sisters would kill her for even thinking it, but she thought that men were twenty times easier to handle than women.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Discuss the observations Father Flynn makes about religion in the first chapter. Although his concerns and frustrations are specific to the Catholic Church, what do they reveal about the struggles clergy of every religion face today? Beyond preserving religious traditions and rites (“people still had to be baptized, given first Communion, have their confessions heard; they needed to be married and buried” [p. 6]), do religious institutions have a meaningful role to play in the twenty-first century? If so, are they fulfilling this role?

2. Neddy Nolan begins his narrative by saying, “nobody expects too much from Soft Neddy so I more or less get away with my way of looking at things” [p. 20]. How do the various stories he tells about himself—from the incident with Nora to his life in London and his marriage to Clare—reflect the contrast between the perceptions of others and Neddy’s own point of view? What advantages does his apparent lack of sophistication give him?

3. In describing her childhood, Clare says, “I was both proud and ashamed when I was a schoolgirl. Proud that I was able to stay out of my uncle’s messy clutches. And ashamed because I came from a family that wouldn’t look after me but left me to fight my own battles against things I didn’t understand” [p. 32]. Do you think this reaction is common among abused children? How does the combination of fear and pride shape Clare, both as a child and as a young woman out on her own?

4. The stories of Vera and Sharon provide a lighthearted look at love and romance through the perspectives of two generations. How does Binchy bring to life the idiosyncrasies of love at different stages in our lives?
In what ways do the stories speak to the timeless needs, desires, and hopes that underlie the search for love?

5. Friendship takes center stage in “Malka” and “Rivka.” Why has Binchy chosen Israel, a setting far from home for both protagonists, as the meeting place for the women? Would these two women have become friends in either Ireland or America, their respective homelands? What role do less-than-perfect marriages play in their deep attachment to and dependence on each other? Do you agree with Rivka’s opinion that “friendship was better than love in a way, it was more generous” [p. 79]?

6. What was your initial reaction to “Becca”? Were you surprised to come upon this chilling story? Does the portrait of Gabrielle change your understanding of Becca’s horrific act [pp. 101–111]? What do the two stories represent in terms of the themes of the novel and the fictional world Binchy is creating?

7. In “Barbara” and “Someone from Dad’s Office,” Binchy explores the transformations that occur when people see one another in unfamiliar contexts. What factors shape the assumptions Barbara and her coworkers make about one another in the office? What parallels exist between the way the narrator views his father in “Someone from Dad’s Office”and the way adults form their opinions in “Barbara”? Do you think the new relationships among the characters will last, or will the old patterns inevitably reemerge?

8. “Dr. Dermot” and “Chester’s Plan” focus on the transition from the past to the present (and the future), and its impact on individuals and communities. What specific details and observations in the stories highlight common reactions to change and progress? Discuss, for example, how the conflict between Dr. Dermot and Dr. White represents more than the clash of two personalities and two different styles of practicing medicine. In what ways does Chester Kovac epitomize the image that people in other countries have of Americans and how this image affects his interactions with the local population?

9. What do Helen’s and James’s accounts reveal about the nature of marriage and the ties that bind people together? How does Binchy treat Helen’s act of desperation and its repercussions? Does she make moral judgments, or does she leave this up to the reader?

10. June and Lucky are the youngest narrators in Whitethorn Woods. What do their perspectives reflect about the significance of roots and of family in contemporary times? What insights do they offer into the complicated terrain of mother-daughter relationships?

11. Binchy paints a wry portrait of courtship in “Emer” and “Hugo.” What distinguishes Binchy’s take on modern romance from the stories told in popular movies, on television, and in “chick-lit” novels? In what ways are the characters, and the way the plot unfolds, reminiscent of traditional fairy tales?

12. What expectations and assumptions—emotional, psychological, and societal—lie at the heart of the relationship between Pearl and her adult children? Is Pearl’s willingness to make excuses for her children naïve, or does it reflect a universal maternal instinct? What does it say about John and Amy that they ignore or are ashamed of their roots? And what does it reveal about Linda’s character that she breaks up with John? What do the characters’ self-deceptions and pretenses demonstrate about family dynamics in general?

13. Poppy’s tale and her sister’s complementary account deal with the same, straightforward “facts,” but make very different impressions on the reader. At the conclusion of her story, Jane asks, “Was it at all possible that Poppy could have been right? Poppy, whose skin had never been cherished, whose hair had never been styled and whose wardrobe was a joke, a bad joke. Surely Poppy couldn’t have discovered the secret of life? That would be too unfair for words” [p. 268]. To what extent does Poppy represent humanity’s most admirable qualities and values? In what ways does she fall short of your definition of the “ideal” person?

14. In “Pandora” and “Bruiser’s Business” Binchy uses the everyday interactions at a beauty parlor to shed light on the secrets, misunderstandings, and false assumptions that too often rule people’s behavior. How does Binchy both use and defy conventional stereotypes (about class, marriage, and sexual preference, for example) to make her characters believable?

15. Why are the stories of Melanie and Caroline coupled under the heading “The Intelligence Test”? What characteristics link the protagonists and their attempts to establish independent, meaningful lives? Were you satisfied with the way the conflicts were resolved?

16. Several of the stories in Whitethorn Woods deal with marriage and the way husbands and wives communicate with each other; others explore the relationships between parents and children as well as among siblings. What do the intricacies of family life tell us about human nature in general? In what ways does the novel deepen your understanding of what constitutes a good marriage and family?

17. The cast of characters includes simple country people, educated and sophisticated people, believers and skeptics. Which characters deal most successfully with the changes in their personal lives and the changes coming to Rossmore? In what ways do their stories redefine and add a new, modern meaning to the concept of faith?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 52 )
Rating Distribution

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(23)

4 Star

(12)

3 Star

(9)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 52 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 10, 2010

    Whitethorn Woods falls short

    This was my second reading selection by author Maeve Binchy. After recently finishing and enjoying her work "Quentins", I picked up Whitethorn Woods. I am sorry to say that Whitethorn Woods didn't live up to the expectations previously set in Quentins. Although Ms. Binchy once again filled the pages with varied, interesting and likable characters in a small Irish village, I felt that it took too long to get to the actual storyline. The theme of the Bypass coming through the Village seemed to be pushed aside through a large portion of the book. Then it seemed rushed at the end piecing it all together.
    I do love her presentation of the characters, their background and their surroundings. They are all realistic, individual and varied personalities who you could see yourself meeting on the street. How she eventually ties them into one another is a puzzle falling into place.
    Althugh I enjoyed Quentins enough to have recommended it and passed it on to others, I did not feel that way about Whitethorn Woods. It was a good read for a rainy day, or while waiting in a reception area, but not one I'd pass along.
    I would make another selection by Ms. Binchy when looking for a quick read with great characters. However, I would recommend Quentins if you want to read one of her works.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted February 8, 2008

    Disappointed

    I have always enjoyed Binchy - but this book was disjointed, difficult to follow, and not compelling in any sense. It feels like she knows her characters so well, she forgets we don't.. and it was more trouble than it was worth to flip back and forth to remember who she was talking about. It reads more like a collection of short stories - and I just didn't enjoy it at all. I'm incredibly easy to please as a reader, so I was disappointed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted May 25, 2007

    A reviewer

    I usually love Binchy's books, however, this one read more like a book of short stories. Each chapter is the story of another character, and it was difficult to keep them all straight. While the stories were interesting and the characters memorable, I would have preferred to read an indepth story about just a few characters.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 6, 2010

    Love Maeve Binchy

    For some reason, she is one of my favorite writers. Maybe because you just feel like you are in Ireland, and sitting there with the characters having tea, or at the pub for a pint. This is written in a form that uses each chapter as a story, and each story has different people from the village, or connected to it in someway, and all of the stories are interlocked to each other. It is a fun read, and I recommend it if you just want to get away.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 21, 2014

    I have read every one of Maeve's books and enjoyed each one thor

    I have read every one of Maeve's books and enjoyed each one thoroughly. Whitethorn Woods has been very difficult for me to read all of the way through-still working on it. The books appears to be all of these individual stories that are not connected. Very Unfortunate - I hear Chestnut street is pretty much the same.

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

    Posted October 30, 2013

    Magicalsoul

    Looked around, crouching. She spotted a sparrow a little ways above. The sparror chirped and parted its wings, ready to escape. She jumped up and hooked the sparrow by a wing, throwing it down with a swipe. In an instant, she stepped on it, looking away as it stopped squaking. She dug her claws into the earth and began burying it, then continued to result eighteen, trying o be silent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2013

    No need to put this one on your list.

    Not my favorite but she does develop lots of characters, some more loveable than others.

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  • Posted May 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    If you need relief from darker books, this is a good one

    Stuff like "Soft Apocalypse" is the reason why I also read Maeve Binchy. Her books almost always have a happy ending. Or at least an ending that makes sense, where people get what they deserve. This one is no exception; it's set in Ireland, like all of hers are, and the people are charming and sympathetic characters, the dilemmas will probably be solved by the end of the book, etc. This one is about a town that has a "sacred well" - a lot of places in the British Isles have springs, wells, or other small water sources that are considered by the local people to be special and magical, through the lens of whatever religion they prefer - Christians will call it Saint Somebody's well (in this case, Ann); other people will say that it's sacred to a goddess or spirit from ancient times; and whatever their belief system, they all think that the particular body of water can bring them good things. Like I said - I read this stuff so I don't get too depressed from my end-of-the-world books.

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  • Posted August 30, 2010

    Hopefully not the real world

    The characters were mostly two faced and had a hidden agenda for all they thought or did. My book club also thought there were too many characters that added nothing to the plot. The preview about the plot concerning building a road was sort of a background plot.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2010

    DUMB and PREDICTABLE

    Not the caliber I'm used to from Binchy. I don't know why I kept reading. It was horribly predictable and the stories were just stupid. I seriously wondered if she had a ghost writer. Won't read Binchy again after this-not willing to pay for that.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    GREAT READING

    I found her books a couple of months ago and have been living at the library or purchasing her books. Every chapter is a story and eventually all the characters connect. Great writing. Just took last one on trip and passed it on after reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2009

    delightful

    insightful, witty, and moving

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  • Posted May 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This was a fun read about characters that were connected in a small town

    I really enjoyed reading about the town itself and the shrine where miracles were supposed to occur.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2009

    Not worth the time

    I've read quite a few Maeve Binchy books and this one is not worth the time. It's like a book of short stories, I didn't even finish it. At first I thought she was just introducing characters but it went on and on.
    If you like Maeve go ahead and read the other books but pass this one by, you will be dissapointed.

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  • Posted March 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    good read

    I liked this story. It was all centered around the well that would be destoryed if the highway came through town. The story intermingled the characters of the town over the years and they were all somehow connected and each had an interest either for or against the well. I don't usually read Maeve Binchy but I will give her a try again after this book. I also just watched the movie Tara Road based on one of her books. I want to read the book now.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2008

    Lessons To Be Learned

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Maeve Binchy has once again taken my emotions by storm. Her characters,their situations and lessons learned all made for heartfelt delightful reading. Keep up your beautiful writing and thank you Maeve Binchy for your insight,understanding and sweet gentle words. You are magnificent!!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2008

    Very Boring

    I have read all of Maeve Binchy's books and I was totally disappointed in this book. It was so boring...I kept thinking it would get better but it never did. I finally gave up and went on to another book, another author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2008

    A reviewer

    I eagerly waited for Whitethorn Woods and was hugely disappointed. There are 2 short stories making up each chapter and they involve different characters. I couldn't keep it straight and finally gave up. Night of Rain and Stars was a disappointment as well. The rest of Maeve Binchy is excellent. That last two just weren't very good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2007

    Not her best work

    This is a difficult to get through. Just when you start to relate to/figure out the character, she ends the chapter and moves on to another character. I love all of Binchy's other works, but I had a hard time getting through this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2007

    One of Binchy's Best

    Finally Maeve Binchy is back in business with Whitethorn Woods. Binchy interweaves her characters around a central story line, namely that of the future of Whitethorn Woods. The plot takes a back seat though to the characters and their interesting lives. I didn't want this book to end. My only complaint is that it wasn't long enough.

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