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The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy – fluffiness revisited on St Patrick’s Day

These are star-crossed travellers who take each other’s bags by mistake, only to learn that when you unlock a stranger’s suitcase you enter a stranger’s life; the house-sitter who moves into her client’s life as well as her home; a holiday for four in Greece which has surprising consequences; and the chance encounter at an airport which unites an unlikely group of people. Full of love, loss, revelations and reconciliation, this enchanting collection shows Maeve Binchy at the height of her powers.

In honour of St Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d choose an Irish author to review, and who better than this one? I’ve always been fond of Maeve Binchy in the way one is fond of an elderly aunt whom one doesn’t necessarily want to visit too often. In the past, when much much younger, I’ve even thoroughly enjoyed quite a few Binchy novels and a couple of her short story collections, though I lost interest as I grew older and wanted something meatier to read. However, in the depths of this winter when everything seemed greyer and bleaker than usual, when I saw this one on the 3 for 2 table at Waterstone’s, I thought it would be nice to revisit old times.

And, actually, it was. Though much like eating a Chinese meal when you’re hungry again an hour or so later, these short stories don’t exactly satisfy you, and frankly I think Binchy’s earlier collections are better, from memory. As a case in point, I’m writing this review only a few days after I finished the book and I can’t remember a thing about it off-hand, whereas some of her earlier stories are much fresher in my mind. I admit that might be my age, however.

I was also disappointed to find some stories here that seemed distinctly sub-standard to me, especially as Binchy is well able to write good quality chick-lit. I would have preferred a more astute editor prepared to clear the bad apples out of the barrel and leave us with a slimmer but more delectable book. For instance, “The Wrong Suitcase” (mentioned in the blurb) is a really good premise but it’s cut off in its prime with an ending that, frankly, goes nowhere in very disappointing fashion. Similarly, “The Home Sitter” had a shimmer of creepiness but it wasn’t followed up and the pieces didn’t quite fit. Indeed there were several occasions in the book where things looked hopeful but simply petered out for lack of content.

That said, there are a few stories in this collection that did stand out, and which showed the author punching at her weight again. “Miss Vogel’s Vacation” is an incredibly charming story of an older woman who has somehow missed out on getting married but who is determined not to miss out on life. I would be happy to read more about Miss Vogel. And “Cross Lines” was a nice and suitably ironic look at how appearances can be deceptive and the person you discount may well be the best romantic partner for you. Binchy is also good at portraying children, where they appear, which is something I always admire.

So, all in all, this can very well be described as a light read to pass the time between more gripping books, like a novel chaser perhaps. And it has some sparks of delight to keep you going. But it certainly doesn’t, as the blurb puts it, show Binchy at the height of her powers. Nonetheless, take it on your holidays, enjoy it by the pool and raise a glass to St Patrick.

The Return Journey, Orion Books 2010, ISBN: 978 1 4091 0346 2

[Anne is surprisingly open to issues of love and romance, in spite of rumours to the contrary, and has even written in the chick-lit genre herself. Once.]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

10 comments on “The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy – fluffiness revisited on St Patrick’s Day

  1. ChrisCross53
    March 17, 2011

    I agree with your analysis about Maeve Binchy. Like you, I am fond of her, enjoy her company, but wouldn’t want to visit too often! She may not be considered as a ‘serious’ author, but her work is usually well-crafted and makes for a good read – and there are times when fluffiness is exactly what one needs.

  2. annebrooke
    March 17, 2011

    Thanks, Chris! And very true – fluffiness can be wonderful! :)

    Anne
    xxx

  3. Jackie
    March 17, 2011

    As a fan of Binchy’s work, I’ll agree that it’s sometimes sentimental & uneven, but I’ve always liked her insights into human nature. There is a satisfying quality to her work that I can’t explain either.
    I read this book some time ago & may do so again after this review. I do recall wishing some of the stories had gone on longer, I wondered if they were ideas that she didn’t fully develop for whatever reasons?

  4. annebrooke
    March 17, 2011

    Very true, Jackie – and I wish some of the better stories had been longer too!
    :)

    Anne
    xxx

  5. Nikki
    March 18, 2011

    Your feelings towards Maeve Binchy echo mine towards Rosamund Pilcher. I don’t know how, but I had a couple of her short story collections when I was very much younger (magazine freebies I think) and I really enjoyed them. They’re still very clear to me, but I’m wary of reading Pilcher now for fear of it not living up to memory. I keep seeing Binchy in the library and passing over for something else, but I think I’ll check out some of her longer works. Thanks for the review!

  6. annebrooke
    March 18, 2011

    Thanks, Nikki! I’ve actually never read any Pilcher but my mother loves her! Yes, do try some of the Binchy earlier novels, but I’d probably steer clear of the ones about the pesky catering firm, Scarlet Feather, as I hate those! The really early ones are better :)

    Anne
    xxx

  7. kirstyjane
    March 20, 2011

    Thanks for this terribly accurate review… I recognise exactly what you’re describing. I re-read a lot of Binchy recently for the first time in years and was so impressed – I think her earlier novels, especially, are just so terrific. And she’s great at observing how people behave and the ways in which they don’t live up to themselves and others. I haven’t yet read this collection but I no doubt will. The most recent thing of hers I read was Heart and Soul, and I really liked it… except for that tendency, which afflicts way too many authors, to write about foreign characters in a kind of simplified, salt-of-the-earth, Janet-and-Johnish language (and that doesn’t just affect the dialogue, I am afraid, but the narration too). That did set my teeth on edge, more so because it was affecting an otherwise brilliant novel!

  8. kirstyjane
    March 20, 2011

    Oh, there is one point of difference…. I don’t find her at all fluffy. Her books always reduce me to tears, which might reflect more on me for being a sensitive plant. I’m thinking especially of things like Firefly Summer and the absolutely gut-wrenching Echoes.

  9. annebrooke
    March 20, 2011

    Thanks, Kirsty! Yes, I do fear my fluffy radar is probably set too low – or is that high? :)

    I will try Heart & Soul at some point though – I think, to be honest, I was put off by the dreadful Scarlet Feather novels – that pesky main man was such a bully that I just wanted to kick him out of town!

    Anne
    xxx

  10. Pingback: The Return Journey | Gone Readin'

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