Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

11. Whitethorn Woods
by Maeve Binchy
fiction, 2006
third book for Ireland Reading Challenge
Kindle book - 6
finished, 1/28/11

In Whitethorn Woods is a well which has apparently been visited by St. Ann, the mother of the Virgin Mary. Father Flynn, the local priest doesn't believe it is holy.
From what he had read and studied, St. Ann and her husband, St. Joachim, were shadowy figures, quite possibly confused in stories with Hannah in the Old Testament, who was thought to be forever childless but eventually bore Samuel. Whatever St. Ann may have done in her lifetime two thousand years ago, she certainly had not visited Rossmore in Ireland, found a place in the woods and established a holy well that had never run dry.
That much was fairly definite.
But try telling that to some of the people of Rossmore and you were in trouble.
The people come with their supplications. The branches of nearby trees are covered with notes of request or thanksgiving.
"He's off the drink for three months, St. Ann, I thank you and beg you to continue to give him strength..."
"I'm afraid to go to the doctor but I am coughing up blood, please, St. Ann, ask Our Lord that I be all right. That it's only some kind of infection that will pass..."
The well in Whitethorn Woods is the center around which this novel revolves. We are introduced to the various souls who call upon St.Ann. There are rumors that a new bypass will be built which will relieve traffic in the town and the people are divided on the issue. Some think it 'would take the life out of the place' while others feel that it would 'return to Rossmore some of its old character.' But the main issue is that it would tear up the Woods and disturb the well.

At the beginning of Maeve Binchy's books, I find myself looking forward to meeting her wonderful characters. This isn't to say they are all splendid examples of humanity, but each one fascinates me. She gives so much detail about their lives, their relationships, their homes, and how they connect to one another that I begin to feel they are real, and what higher praise can be given to a novelist?

We meet a couple whose marriage fell apart after their baby was kidnapped many years ago. The husband has been cruel to his wife and is now in jail. There's a murderous daughter and her incredible mother. In a humorous chapter the reader is introduced to Hugo, a taxi driver who plays a part in bringing love into the life of Emer. And there is Neddy Nolan, one of the dearest characters I've met in literature. He is described as not the 'sharpest knife in the drawer' which may be true, but he is certainly the kindest person imaginable, and as it turns out, is much smarter than anyone had guessed. We learn a great deal about modern Ireland, and the change in the Catholic church there. Father Flynn has his finger on the pulse of the community as he goes about his daily ministrations, pondering his role in these times.

I simply couldn't be happier with all these Maeve Binchy books. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll read any other authors for the Ireland Reading Challenge!


  1. Phew, I can't keep up with you. Still trying to decide whether to get The Tapestry of Love from the library or on my Ibook.

    Thanks for the great reviews. You're a good guide.


    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green island

  2. I love Maeve Binchy's books! This is the last one of hers I've read, although I do own Heart And Soul (I think that's the title; about a doctor and a new medical center). She creates such a mood for me, that even the characters aren't exactly moral (and who am I to judge?!) I always feel refreshed after finishing one of her novels.

    Love your snowy header; we're in the same situation, and I think it's beautiful!

  3. I read a book of Binchy's short stories, a few years ago (about 5 years ago, actually) and it was so awful that I haven't yet talked myself into giving her a second chance. I know I should, though. Some authors just can't do short stories and I had a feeling I'd like her longer work, at the time.

  4. I'm enjoying your enjoyment of Maeve Binchy books. Even ones that aren't as strong as others, and I count Whitethorn Woods among the less strong, are still wonderful stories.

    Father Flynn is around for Minding Frankie.

    And you were worried about signing up for some challenges! I haven't even read any Irish books yet. Maybe I'll make them my focus in March. My husband, who counts his relatives Scotch back to Scotland, was welcomed by my Irish side of the family particularly when they discovered he was born on St Patrick's Day. My 88 year old grandmother always calls him on his birthday.

  5. I love this author and now your review has made me want to make some time to read some of her other works.

    What a great header photo..you guys got a lot of snow!!

  6. Love your snowy picture. I liked Whitethorn Woods. Maeve Binchy does a wonderful job at making paths of her characters overlap and I agree with you the characters come to life though not all are appealing.
    Great review.

  7. I haven't read this on and now I must. I am enjoying your reviews, especially right now these of Binchy. You are so right about her characters and I think I need to meet some soon.

    Thank you for this review.

  8. Oh, Sharon, I'd buy a copy! I think it's a book you'll read again. Really, really good. And you'll love all the nature descriptions.

    Bellezza, I've just begun Heart and Soul! 'Refreshed' is exactly the right word. And I do remember you are my fellow winter fan. :<)

    Bookfool, I'm not sure you would feel any different with the novels. I think her short stories are just miniature versions of her books. I happen to love her work, but not everyone will.

    Raidergirl, sometimes when I was reading it I felt the same way but when I finished I thought it was just as good as the others. Glad to hear I'll see Father Flynn again. I really like him. My rels are from both places. Actually some are Scots-Irish (the Scots who were cleared out and ended up in Northern Ireland).

    Staci, and it snowed again yesterday. Ah, winter!

    Thank you, Ann. I've just begun Heart and Soul and then it's on to Minding Frankie, and then maybe I'll go back to some older ones. :<)

    Life on the cut off, I'm so pleased you like the reviews. I just love her work.

  9. Nan, maybe because I was listening to this on a BOCD, this wasn't one of my favorites of Maeve's. I loved all her other books but I read them. Thanks for your review!

  10. Did you read Maeve Binchy's The Glass Lake? That one is probably my favorite...

  11. Sherri, I have read others who didn't care for it so much either.

    Kim, no I haven't and I thank you for the recommendation!!


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