A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
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.]