Thursday, January 05, 2012
Author: Maeve Binchy
Genre: Contemporary fiction, cozy read
Publisher: Dell, 1998
Read for: Fun
Aidan Dunne's life is lacking in color. His wife is emotionally absent and he fears that his long-awaited promotion to school principal is not going to happen. He tries to fill the empty spaces in his life by decorating a beautiful study with scenes of Italy, but he doesn't really find fulfillment until his plan for evening classes for adults is approved and the eccentric and mysterious Signora begins teaching an Italian class. The Italian class comes together and affects the lives of its participants as they learn to overcome the boredom of day-to-day life with a little enchantment.
I really looked forward to this first Binchy read. All last month, I was craving "cozy reads" -- books that took place in cold climates and involved tea, sweaters, and feel-good messages. The added element of Italian further attracted me, as my husband is an Italian teacher himself (I don't speak the language yet, but I am hoping to work on it when I am out of school). I feel like this book had a lot of promise, but ultimately it didn't come through for me.
I will say that the plot was mildly entertaining. I was curious to know what would happen to the characters; they were in some interesting situations and I wanted to know how they would get out of them. However, I feel as if they frequently copped out of their problems. For example (a spoiler follows), one of the characters, Lou, is involved in a crime ring in which he is required to do certain favors for a boss, such as leaving a door unlocked, storing drugs, etc. He mentions at one time that he doesn't want to be involved any more, and the boss tells him there is no getting out of the situation: now that he is involved, he will always be involved. However, when Lou sees another member of the crime ring fail to complete his duty and mentions it to the boss, the boss says, shaking his head sadly, "He won't be working anymore." Lou took this to mean that he was simply uninvolved. I took it to mean that the unfortunate guy had been killed for not doing his job. However, Lou decides he just won't work anymore either. I kept expecting the crime boss to come after him, but he never did. And okay, I'm glad nothing bad happened to Lou, but it seemed extremely unlikely to me. Other characters' situations resolved in similar ways. When characters were unfaithful to each other, their partners were conveniently also unfaithful, and the relationship was more or less amicably ended. People with bad habits simply changed their ways. It just seemed too easy and too convenient.
The writing also left something to be desired. It wasn't horrible, by any means; it is quick and easy to read. But I wasn't impressed. Binchy simply wrote what she saw; there was nothing elegant or unique about the writing. I know that this is often the case with mass market books, but when I read Winter Solstice, a book that I would class similarly, the writing was comfortable but also lovely and elegant.
I haven't given up on Binchy yet, but I was disappointed with this read; I expected more. It gives an interesting story, but the problems are solved too easily and conveniently to hold a lasting interest.
Warnings: some swearing, lots of infidelity (not described past the bedroom door)