Binchy's reliable recipe


FICTION: DENISE DEEGANreviews Minding FrankieBy Maeve Binchy Orion Books, 376 pp. £18.99

IF Maeve Binchy’s 16th novel were a bar of chocolate it would be a Cadbury Dairy Milk. Minding Frankieis solid, reliable and comforting in its familiarity, delivering to Binchy fans what they have come to expect from her novels.

We meet a cast of characters familiar from previous Binchy novels: Fr Brian Flynn, Clara Casey, the Scarlets, Declan and Fiona Carroll. We are also introduced to new ones. The thread that pulls all the characters together is Frankie, a baby born “outside wedlock” to a mother who dies from cancer at the outset of the story.

Minding Frankieis set in a close-knit community near the centre of Dublin, where a host of good samaritans club together to help raise Frankie. Central to the story is Noel Lynch, a single, introverted thirtysomething who still lives with his parents and whose best friend is alcohol. Noel’s life is going nowhere fast when he is told by Frankie’s mother, Stella (a forgotten one-night stand), that he is the father of her soon-to-be-born baby. Stella is expected to die when the baby is born. She wants Noel to do the right thing when the time comes. After initial uncertainty Noel rises to the challenge and takes on responsibility for the newborn. He needs help minding Frankie because he is holding down a (dead-end) job and taking night classes.

First out of the trap is Emily, his newly arrived cousin from the US. Emily, heading for 50, has taken early retirement and come to visit the home her father left behind and never returned to. Emily quickly becomes a rock that everyone leans on: Noel himself, and also his parents, Josie and Charles, who are suffering the direct effects of post-Celtic Tiger economic uncertainty. Emily rolls up her sleeves, cooks meals, administers sound advice and becomes the cousin we would all love to have.

The next hand to rock the cradle belongs to Lisa Kelly, a single twentysomething graphic designer who also lives with her parents. Lisa, who attends night classes with Noel, is convinced by Emily to move in with Noel and the baby when she can take no more of her parents’ loveless marriage. Lisa has fallen in love with a celebrity chef with a record in broken hearts. Look out, Lisa.

When Lisa isn’t available, a host of other characters pitch in to mind baby. This unorthodox set-up does not go down well with Frankie’s social worker, Moira Tierney, who is more committed to organising other people’s lives than living her own. If Moira had her way the baby would be taken from Noel and given to a more suitable family. Moira intends to have her way.

Minding Frankiemoves easily between the stories of the vast range of characters. It works best when dealing with the unexpected. This happens where Moira Tierney’s personal life conflicts with her professional one. It also occurs when one of her work colleagues is confronted by a grown-up son he never knew he had.

The cover of Minding Frankiehas a fairy-tale quality, reflecting the many happy endings in the book. It is the occasional grit, however, that this reviewer is attracted to. Without giving too much away, the death occurs of a familiar Binchy character. The grief experienced by the person left behind is real and moving. And a satisfying twist at the end of Minding Frankieadds realism.

In 27 years Maeve Binchy has sold more than 40 million books. Minding Frankieis a reminder of the author’s savvy ability to deliver what her loyal following has come to expect.

Denise Deegan is the author of four novels. Her fifth, And By the Way,will be published by Hachette in February