18. Heart and Soul
by Maeve Binchy
fourth book for Ireland Reading Challenge
Finally I read the book which started (or, I should say, re-started) my whole Maeve Binchy binge. Months ago my friend Judi, who has been noted in my letters several times, loaned me this book to read. She told me that many characters in Maeve's recent books show up in other books, and mentioned connections between Heart and Soul and Nights of Rain and Stars, which I had read a few years ago. Well, I wanted to go back to the earlier books before reading this one, and boy, am I ever happy that I did. I have loved rereading Scarlet Feather, Evening Class, Nights of Rain and Stars and Quentins. I so enjoyed reading This Year Will Be Different and Whitethorn Woods for the first time. And now I come to Heart and Soul. I believe it has overtaken Scarlet Feather as my favorite Maeve Binchy book. She expresses the characters' voices and their personalities so well. And again, there is that Maeve Binchy kindness, warmth, and real love of humanity that suffuses her work. I am simply wild about this author.
There's a recent article on Maeve Binchy in The Guardian which you may enjoy reading. This photo accompanied it.
And a video here! How very wonderful to hear her voice.
The book is dedicated 'in memory of my dear younger sister Renie,' who was a doctor. Heart and Soul features a new heart clinic; 'a day clinic that would help patients to manage their own lives.' Here they learn about exercise and nutrition. They realize that their lives are not over because they've had heart attacks. They don't have to live in fear of the next one, or of dying. They are taught that life truly does go on afterwards.
Almost as soon as the book begins, we meet an old friend from Whitethorn Woods, Chester Kovac. A few pages later two women go to eat at Quentins restaurant. This book is like a newsy letter from home to someone who has moved away, and it might go something like this:
You wouldn't believe it but the twins, Simon and Maud are seventeen now and wanting to work in Greece during school break; and guess who is helping them out - Fiona, who got rid of her slimeball boyfriend, and is nursing with her great friend Barbara at this new heart clinic. She sets up a job for the twins with Vonni, the woman who runs the craft shop in Aghia Anna.
And our dear Father Flynn has been transferred to Dublin. He had quite a challenging experience with a 'mad' girl but with help from his great friends, all is well now.
Aidan Dunne, the teacher, now lives happily with his wife but is facing his own challenges in his job. The kids are not like they used to be. They taunt him. They bump into him, scattering his books with nary an apology. He is urged to retire but he feels he must continue. We'll have to see how this situation is resolved.
There are more and more references to earlier books, and having read them all within the last few months, this was such a treat for me. What could be more wonderful than this book for the fans of Maeve Binchy?!
The clinic is the center of Heart and Soul, as we learn about the lives of the doctors, nurses, and patients. Maeve Binchy doesn't skirt over the problems in the 'new' Ireland - for example, the prejudice toward the 'foreigners' who have moved in. We get to know a young girl, Ania, who has come over from Poland. There is a death from a drug overdose. We see all the buildings where fields used to be. And we read of the more personal situations that people must deal with. Along with those who have heart disease, there is also a character with Alzheimer's. The author really captures what the experience is like living with someone who has this awful affliction, and there's a cautionary tale. Perhaps a reader might say this was overly dramatic and 'novelistic' but I think we've all heard stories of those who go wandering at night. In the book's case, the woman managed to get the key out of a hall vase and open a door. We first knew my own aunt had something wrong when Tom showed up at her door and she asked who he was. Later she was found wandering at night, and then was moved to a place where she could receive care. We may think we are doing the best for those we love by keeping them home, but if we realize they may be at a stage where they could injure themselves or others, we must accept the fact that it is time to let professionals take over. As I say, Maeve Binchy doesn't avoid the sad parts. Yet just as in real life, the sad is intertwined with the joy. In Heart and Soul romance and friendship abounds.
This is my fourth book for the Ireland Reading Challenge 2011, and all four so far have been by Maeve Binchy.