Maeve’s Times: Irish Times Selected Writings by Maeve Binchy
Reviewed by Anna Carey
Maeve’s Times: Irish Times Selected Writings
Hachette Books Ireland
She did so without sentiment and with great compassion. Her report on the capsizing of the ferry Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge in 1987, in which she goes to the ferry terminal in Dover where the families of those aboard wait for news of their relatives, is a masterclass in how to capture the terrible effect of a tragedy on those left behind without poking a microphone in their faces or intruding on their grief.
She also highlighted serious problems by pointing out those who are trying to change things for the better. In “A Tipperary Robin Hood”, she shows the grim effects of Margaret Thatcher’s policies on older people by looking at a Tipperary-born social worker in London who does her impressive and imaginative best to make her aging clients’ lives easier. It’s a brilliant approach that doesn’t ignore the realities of lonely, impoverished old age but reminds the reader that there’s still hope for change.
While many of the pieces are personal tales, the book is a reminder of how good a reporter she was. As well as the Zeebrugge disaster, there are her accounts of civilian suffering in wartorn Cyprus and the protests at Greenham Common, her encounters with Charlie Haughey and Samuel Beckett, and her witty accounts of every royal wedding from Princess Anne’s to Kate and William’s. These reports are short but so evocative and insightful.
Of course, some pieces in the book have stood the test of time better than others. A series of 1970s pieces called Women Are Fools, which tell the stories of individual women who weren’t satisfied with their lot and suffered as a result, may have aimed to highlight the limitations placed on Irish women’s lives, but some of them now read like rather trite morality tales. But even those stories are gripping narratives, and their slight datedness merely highlights how well everything else stands up.
Anyone who has read Binchy’s novels will be familiar with her subtle but strong feminism, and it’s evident throughout these pieces. Sometimes it’s explicit, as in the hilarious story of her attempt to pay for a male friend’s lunch (“The waiter took my cheque and cheque card like a butler in a film might pick up a tousled gypsy child to remove it from his lordship’s eyes”), or her evaluation of Margaret Thatcher (“She has almost single-handedly banished the notion that it is somehow unusual or special for a woman to be able to do anything. For that, if nothing else, women in the future may thank her”).
But it’s always implicit in the way she writes about women’s lives, including her own. As Irish women’s lives were gradually transformed over the last few decades of the 20th century, Binchy constantly provided the voice of quietly radical common sense. This book is a reminder of how important that voice was. She doesn’t say anything in “Develop Your Own Style” about how to end a review, but I’ll trust that her advice to simply write what you want to say still holds. So this is how I’ll end it: thank you, Maeve. Thank you very much.
Anna Carey’s debut novel, The Real Rebecca, won the Senior Children’s Book prize at the 2011 Irish Book Awards. Her third book, Rebecca Rocks, has just been published.