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A Week In Winter book jacket

A Week in Winter

by Maeve Binchy, review by Dani Henke

I was surprised to get a piece of mail at the bookstore that was addressed to me.  Random House didn't have any reason to single me out, or so I thought.  But as it happens, Wendy had signed me up to be the store's audio book representative and inside my personalized parcel were three new audio books for my listening enjoyment.

Selecting a book to read is kind of a big deal for me, since I'm such a slow reader, it's a commitment to choose something that will take up so much of your time.  There's something a little different about my commitment to audio books.  Even though they take up more time, (10-20 hours usually) I'm able to do other things.  I listen to the books while I'm walking somewhere, cleaning the house, working on my art.  I don't have to dedicate time specifically to the book.  It can be argued that it cheapens the experience a bit, and I'll admit that I do miss some things.  But, I've always loved being read to and I don't always make the free time to sit down with a physical book so the audio book works for me. 

I singled out Maeve Binchy's A Week In Winter from my tripod of choices.  I'm a virgin to Binchy's written word but was pleased to find out she wrote the book Circle of Friends, that the movie of the same name was based on, a movie I adored in high school. (It was the 90s, who wasn't a sucker for Chris O'Donnell?)  So with Mr. O'Donnell dreamily in mind, I began my 11 hour sojourn to Stoneybrook, Ireland.

This novel is a little fluffier than my norm.  A little more Nicolas Sparks or Jodi Piccoult than Jeannette Winterson or Ali Smith, but it was a nice escape. It's a light-hearted, warm read for the last cold days of winter.  It's also a great vacation for those who couldn't find the time or the capital to break away from their daily grind.

It's a story about Chicky Starr, an Irish woman who leaves home to follow the man she loves to America.  When the young lust flickers and fades, Chicky, too ashamed to return to Ireland to hear "I told you so," creates a whole life of lies around the relationship she doesn't actually have with Walter.  She weaves a tale of love, marriage, and eventually when she's ready to move back to Ireland, Walter's death.  This is the first half of the book, how Chicky leaves and comes back to Stoneybridge and how Stone House, the mansion-turned-guesthouse on the sea, comes into her possession. It's also the most polished.

The construction of the rest of the novel, each chapter being a new character (a life from beginning to end or at least until it ends up at Stone House) doesn't have the same finished feel.  I enjoyed following each group or individual on their journey to Stone House, even if it was cropped a bit short after the extensive intro. Some characters overlap others and some stand alone but still have a connection with the story and with the inn. There is a motley crew once the house is full and the telling of each character's arrival wasn't always linear in time so I found myself questioning where we were in the story a few times, but it does all come out in the wash.

I liked the book but, not being my usual genre, I wasn't sure if I was missing something.  After reading other reviews, the book received a fair share of thumbs up, especially from tried and true Binchy fans.  They compare this book to her earlier novels, which I guess is good.  I also learned that Binchy passed away in June 2012 just a short time after finishing this book, but it was mentioned in a few of these reviews that she didn't seem to finish editing it and that the end was a bit rushed.  There are several awkward transitions and some characters that are not as well developed as she's usually capable of.  However, the general consensus is that it is still Maeve Binchy and a comforting and thoughtful story.

To sum it up, It's not a book I would have normally picked up, but I do love Ireland and it was a great book to listen to while I performed all my daily tasks.  I can see it being a great book to curl up with by a fire and get lost in as our own winter winds down.  If you're normally a fan of Nicolas Sparks, it's totally worth spending A Week in Winter.

A Week in Winter is avaiable in hard copy at Nantucket Bookworks and online here.


Dani-- I've often thought that we absorb information differently when we hear something than when we read it.  Details missed while reading, for example, can be caught when hearing the same text.  Have you ever noticed this?