In praise of Maeve Binchy, by Sinéad Crowley

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘It wasn’t until I reread the book over two decades later that I fully appreciated Maeve Binchy’s gift for mixing light with shade’

Maeve Binchy at the National Gallery of Ireland beside her  portrait  by Maeve McCarthy: “Her novels sold in their millions but before them came her journalism, columns that transported the reader to the front row of a royal wedding, gently explained the reality of mental illness or captured with bitter simplicity the silence of a couple who had run out of things to say. Colour writing at its finest. Light and shade.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Maeve Binchy at the National Gallery of Ireland beside her portrait by Maeve McCarthy: “Her novels sold in their millions but before them came her journalism, columns that transported the reader to the front row of a royal wedding, gently explained the reality of mental illness or captured with bitter simplicity the silence of a couple who had run out of things to say. Colour writing at its finest. Light and shade.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Strangers become sisters. A son disappoints his father. A young woman sits, mortified yet dignified as her husband drinks his way through their wedding night. When I first read Light a Penny Candle as a teenager I found the plot absorbing, the characters unerringly realistic, but it wasn’t until I reread the book over two decades later that I fully appreciated Maeve Binchy’s gift for mixing light with shade.

Her readers knew the Ireland she was talking about and could recognise its people. In the era of the 1980s blockbuster Binchy wrote, not of Hollywood mansions but of the small Irish town and its Commercial Hotel. She showed readers of Irish popular fiction that stories could be rooted in the local and the familiar and she inspired many other women writers to do the same.

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